“What Social Scientists Learned from Katrina”

“If a group of poor Americans are stuck in a bad place, then either the place they are stuck in needs to be improved or they need to move to a better place. Over the years, there have been numerous efforts to advance the second of these approaches — experimental projects, government initiatives — but they have been hard to execute on a large scale. Then came the storm…
The Lower Ninth had twenty thousand people before Katrina. Five years afterward, there were six thousand. In Mid-City, there are still abandoned houses and empty lots. Many of these people may have wanted to come back right after the storm. But the public schools were shut down, the city’s main public hospital was a wreck, and the city’s public-housing projects were shuttered…
One of the tragedies of Katrina was that so many of New Orleans’ residents were forced to move. But the severity of that tragedy is a function of where they were forced to move to. Was it somewhere on the Salt Lake City end of the continuum? Or was it a place like Fayetteville? The best answer we have is from the work of the sociologist Corina Graif, who tracked down the new addresses of seven hundred women displaced by Katrina — most of them lower-income and black…
A few years after the hurricane, researchers at the University of Texas interviewed a group of New Orleans drug addicts who had made the move to Houston, and they found that Katrina did not seem to have left the group with any discernible level of trauma. That’s because, the researchers concluded, “they had seen it all before: the indifferent authorities, loss, violence, and feelings of hopelessness and abandonment that followed in the wake of this disaster,” all of which amounted to “a microcosm of what many had experienced throughout their lives.””
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