A few numbers, anyway, generated by looking at this photo over at Washington Monthly, and roughly tracing the flooded area of New Orleans onto a map at Social Explorer. The latter site is a neat way to explore census data: Outline or mark areas and then generate a report. From the (popup jpg; rough flood area is crosshatched) came a load of data. The flood area has a population of about 380,000. Here’s how it compares to national numbers:1
|median HH income||% black||% poverty||% owns home||% private trans.||% public trans.|
|Flood area||$ 29,854||66.8||26.9||50.6||79.0||13.0|
These real numbers should be part of the discussion of why so many people didn’t get out of town. Jack Shafer gives it some thought, but it’s also informative to compare these numbers with national rates: In the flooded area of the city, poverty is more than twice as high as the national rate; median income is twelve thousand dollars lower; reliance on public transportation is nearly three times as high. Lower rates of owner-occupation mean a greater lack of insurance coverage, as Shafer also observes:
But I don’t recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn’t risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he’d have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.
For the prospect of those very poor residents of New Orleans, evacuation was a lose-lose situation, one that threatened ruin either way. And now it seems that for everyone still there—and many who have made their way out of the city, as well—the hapless, disorganized response to not unimaginable conditions just seals the deal.
1 2000 Census.