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New Orleanians See Remarkable Progress A Decade After Hurricane Katrina

Ten years after floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina breached the levees, inundating and devastating the city, many residents feel the city is making significant headway, according to a new poll by NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation, which nonetheless reveals deep racial disparities in the recovery.

NPR's David Greene speaks with Liz Hamel, director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation about the survey findings.

How are people in New Orleans feeling?

On the positive side, we find that most residents say the recovery effort is going in the right direction. A majority now say the city has mostly recovered from the hurricane. And in the years that we've been tracking it, we find big increases in the shares who say there's been progress made on things like repairing the levees, attracting jobs and businesses to New Orleans, and improving access to public transportation.

It sounds like there's a "but" there somewhere.

When you dig below those overall trends that seem to be going in the right direction, we find the progress has been really uneven for different groups, and there are some pretty huge gaps in survey responses, particularly when you look by race. ...

I should acknowledge that racial disparities are not a new problem for New Orleans; they certainly weren't caused by Hurricane Katrina. But one of the things that I found really alarming in the survey findings is how some of the attitudes have diverged over time.

We asked people whether now is a good time or a bad time for children to be growing up in New Orleans. When we asked them this back in 2008, majorities of both blacks and whites agreed that it was a bad time for kids to be growing up in New Orleans.

But now in 2015, 70 percent of whites say it's a good time for kids, and that compares with just 37 percent of African-Americans.

Another thing we found is that black residents are about twice as likely as whites to say they're considering moving away from New Orleans, and that's really a big concern because the city has already lost a lot of its black population who weren't able to return after Katrina.

The diversity of the people has always been one of the things that defines New Orleans, and so it's sort of concerning to see these signs that African-Americans are considering moving away.

Are there specific things that you learned about what African-American residents feel is missing in the city or in neighborhoods that they feel makes it not a good place for children to grow up?

One thing that was a concern, the top concern, for both black and white residents, is crime. It's also the area where people are least likely to say there's been any progress.

Another [statistic] that stands out is that more than half say their neighborhood doesn't have enough police presence, and that's actually up since 2010. And, again, there's a race gap there, too, with more African-Americans compared with whites saying there aren't enough police in their neighborhood.

We've talked about some of the nuances within these numbers, but overall, "remarkably optimistic" are two words that you use as the headline. Is that really the takeaway from the survey?

I think despite all the underlying concerns, we see a lot of hope and a sense of resiliency. Three-quarters of those who were living in New Orleans when Katrina hit say that the experience made them better able to cope with stress. So there's a sense that it's made them stronger.

The other thing I think is there's an overwhelming sense of pride. When we ask people to name the best thing that the city has to offer, the No. 1 answer is the city's culture.

The Kaiser Family Foundation/NPR Survey Of New Orleans Residents 10 Years After Katrina was conducted as part of a survey partnership between NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Representatives of the two organizations worked together to develop the survey questionnaire, with NPR maintaining editorial control over its broadcasts and online reporting relating to the survey results.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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