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Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Abstract

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on the 29th of August 2005 and displaced virtually the entire population of the city. Soon after, observers predicted the city would become whiter and wealthier as a result of selective return migration, although challenges related to sampling and data collection in a post-disaster environment have hampered evaluation of these hypotheses. In this article, we investigate return to the city by displaced residents over a period of approximately 14 months following the storm, describing overall return rates and examining differences in return rates by race and socioeconomic status. We use unique data from a representative sample of pre-Katrina New Orleans residents collected in the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Survey. We find that black residents returned to the city at a much slower pace than white residents even after controlling for socioeconomic status and demographic characteristics. However, the racial disparity disappears after controlling for housing damage. We conclude that blacks tended to live in areas that experienced greater flooding and hence suffered more severe housing damage which, in turn, led to their delayed return to the city. The full-scale survey of displaced residents being fielded in 2009–2010 will show whether the repopulation of the city was selective over a longer period.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The absolute difference in household incomes between non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites in the 50 metropolitan areas with the largest black populations in 2000 was $20,705 for New Orleans compared to a median of $20,451, which is the value for Los Angeles (Logan 2002).

  2. 2.

    The DNORPS respondent was asked to report, for residents of the pre-Katrina household who were currently living in New Orleans “when did each person return to New Orleans after Katrina to live or stay most of the time?” The response was either a date or a report that the person did not leave the city during the storm or its aftermath.

  3. 3.

    The measure of housing damage from DNORPS provides a much better indicator of individuals’ ability to move back to New Orleans than does information on when neighborhoods reopened or flood depth of the local area. This is because housing damage could vary greatly by housing characteristics (such as whether the dwelling had a raised rather than a slab foundation) within areas with similar flood depths.

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Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of many colleagues in designing, implementing, and analyzing the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Survey. This research was funded in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institutes of Child Health and Development (HD57608).

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Fussell.

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Fussell, E., Sastry, N. & VanLandingham, M. Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Popul Environ 31, 20–42 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-009-0092-2

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Keywords

  • Race
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Migration
  • New Orleans
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Environment
  • Natural hazards