New Orleans' black population dropped 57% a year after Hurricane Katrina, while the white population declined 36%, according to an analysis by three demographers of new U.S. census data that confirm the disaster's disproportionate impact on the city's racial composition. Billed as the "first full picture" of the mass migration after the hurricane, the analysis also found that New Orleanians displaced to Houston and other cities were more likely to be black, uneducated and poor. By contrast, those who relocated to the city's suburbs were more likely to be white, educated and well off.
Though many New Orleans leaders had lamented the uneven toll on black citizens when the levees broke and flooded much of the city, demographer William H. Gray of the Brookings Institution, one of the study's authors, said it was still surprising to see the data show it in such stark terms.
"The fact that it really is the case is what's surprising," Gray said. "The flow of migration shows there is a fairly clear pattern."
The analysis painted a picture of post-Katrina New Orleans as a city notably whiter, older and less populous than it had been during the 2000 census, with fewer children, fewer renters and a more educated citizenry.
However, it also noted that the city was still a "majority minority" city, with African Americans making up roughly 58% of the population when the federal government's data snapshot was taken last summer.
"The census estimates make plain that the city of New Orleans sustained a much more substantial loss of its black population than of its whites," the demographers concluded. They added, "The black loss, however, was not sufficient to shift the racial composition of the city."
Gray and the others touted their work as the first real apples-to-apples comparison since the hurricane two years ago. The analysis primarily contrasted data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey and 2006 population estimate with similar information collected as part of the 2000 U.S. census. The demographers were given an advance look at the new census data, which is being released today. They also examined other federal data, including tax forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, to determine who had been living in a different place last year.
One of their more surprising findings, given the many anecdotal reports about an influx of Latino immigrants into New Orleans since Katrina, was that the Census Bureau's 2006 figures for the city and metropolitan area showed a Latino population of just 4% to 6%, and that it was smaller than in 2005.
However, "to the extent that Latino workers moved to New Orleans after the storm and lived in hastily arranged housing, it is very likely" that federal surveys missed many of the new arrivals, the demographers concluded.