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(Un)natural disaster: vulnerability, long-distance displacement, and the extended geography of neighborhood distress and attainment after Katrina

Abstract

After Hurricane Katrina, socioeconomically vulnerable populations were slow to return to their poor and segregated pre-disaster neighborhoods. Yet, very little is known about the quality of their post-disaster neighborhoods. While vulnerable groups rarely escape neighborhood poverty, some Katrina evacuees showed signs of neighborhood improvement. The current study investigates this puzzle and the significance of long-distance moves for neighborhood change among participants in the Resilience in the Survivors of Katrina Project. Seven hundred low-income, mostly minority mothers in community college in New Orleans before Katrina were tracked across the country a year and a half later. The findings show that respondents’ immediate and extended neighborhoods and metropolitan areas after Katrina were less disadvantaged, less organizationally isolated, and more racially and ethnically diverse compared to their pre-hurricane environments, and to the environments of those staying or returning home. Counterfactual analyses showed that more than within-neighborhood changes over time, between-neighborhood mobility and long-distance migration decreased respondents’ exposures to distress in their neighborhood, extended geographic area, and metropolitan area.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, the New Orleans city neighborhoods had on average 30 % poverty, higher than Chicago (22 %) and Baltimore (24 %). The average neighborhood share of black residents was about 63 %, higher than the average US tract (14 %), Chicago (42 %), or New York (27 %).

  2. 2.

    While respondents are socioeconomically vulnerable overall, there are still important dimensions of variability: only half are unemployed; some have larger earnings, fewer children, and younger ages; some have more social support from spouses or other household members; and some live in less disadvantaged neighborhoods than others.

  3. 3.

    Decennial Census 2000—Social Explorer Tables T: 9, 14, 15, 21, 27, 40, 69, and 179.

  4. 4.

    The latter percentage was due to (a) challenges in finding people scattered all over the country, and (b) instances of incorrect, misspelled, or incomplete addresses, which made it difficult to identify the specific tract of residence.

  5. 5.

    Caution is important in interpreting differences between ACS and DC scores as their methodologies are different in sample size, question wording, collection date, multi-year averages for small areas, and the residence rule.

  6. 6.

    Neighborhood contexts are typically assessed as immediate tracts of residence or as large units like counties or ZIP codes. To understand the surrounding context within walking distance, the four nearby tracts were picked here as a first test of the concept. Four is nonetheless a necessarily arbitrary number because of the scarcity of work on extended neighborhoods in spatial mobility research. It will be valuable to explore other cutoffs in the future.

  7. 7.

    In a first step, the 2000 DC population count was used as denominators for pre-Katrina measures and the 2005–2009 ACS 5-year estimates for post-Katrina measures. ACS 5-year 2006–2009 tract population estimates were also used as denominator for post-Katrina measures, with little change in results.

  8. 8.

    Average 4 % difference in poverty rate × average 5000 tract residents = about 200 fewer poor neighbors.

  9. 9.

    Matching yielded 683 observations in the region of common support and reduced significantly the individual and neighborhood differences between the treatment and control groups. For instance, the average pre-Katrina neighborhood poverty became 32 % for the flooded, no different from the non-flooded. Similarly, post-matching differences were nonsignificant in neighborhood income, disadvantage, female-headed households, households with public assistance, and percent college graduates. The difference in racial and ethnic diversity by flooding narrowed considerably but did not disappear. Importantly, matching movers with stayers, and metro-leavers with metro-stayers, reduced to nonsignificant differences in neighborhood socioeconomic as well as racial–ethnic characteristics.

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Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Mary Waters, Jean Rhodes, Chris Paxson, Lori Hunter, Jenny Van Hook, Michelle Frisco, and Barry Lee for valuable feedback and support for this project. I thank Andy Gladfelter for research assistance. I thank Mary Waters and the Harvard RISK project team for providing access to the data. I am also grateful for support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, the Population Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University (NICHD award # R24 HD041025), and the National Science Foundation. The contents of this paper are my own views and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of NSF, NICHD, the U.S. Government, or of any of the other supporting institutions.

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Graif, C. (Un)natural disaster: vulnerability, long-distance displacement, and the extended geography of neighborhood distress and attainment after Katrina. Popul Environ 37, 288–318 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-015-0243-6

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Keywords

  • Environmental risk
  • Socioeconomic vulnerability
  • Long-distance migration
  • Displacement
  • Residential mobility
  • Extended neighborhood
  • Attainment
  • Natural disaster
  • Hurricane Katrina