Recovery after Hurricane Katrina has been a major reason for a doubling of construction jobs around New Orleans, a new study shows.
That’s one of many positive post-Katrina economic signs as the storm’s eighth anniversary approaches.
However, the Greater New Orleans Data Center report also notes potential drags on continued progress. A major concern is coastal erosion that threatens the city’s long-term safety.
The report, released Wednesday, also says adult educational attainment continues to lag when compared with other Southern cities, hampering preparation of the labor force for jobs.
The problem is especially acute for black men. The report says the percentage of local black men obtaining bachelor’s degrees hasn’t increased since 2000.
Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. An estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded after levees collapsed.
The report, “The New Orleans Index at Eight,” notes several ways in which New Orleans and the metropolitan area weathered the Great Recession.
“The recession took hold locally in 2008, and the metro lost only 1 percent of its jobs before the economy rebounded,” the report’s executive summary notes. “In contrast, the nation hemorrhaged jobs beginning in 2007 and lost 6 percent before its turnaround. By 2012, the New Orleans metro had fully recovered, and employment levels surpassed the 2008 peak by 1 percent. At the same time, the nation remained 3 percent behind its pre-recession employment level.”
There were 501 business startups per 100,000 adults in the metro area in the three-year period ending in 2012. That is a rate 56 percent higher than the national average, and 33 percent higher than that the report calls “aspirational cities” – seven Southern metro areas with populations of greater than 1,000,000 that have experienced better than 10 percent job growth since 2000.
Aiding the region’s progress is a slow but necessary shift from what are often called legacy industries, including tourism, oil and gas, and shipping.
Knowledge-based industries including higher education and insurance agencies have continued to gain ground in the greater New Orleans region, along with significant expansions of heavy construction and engineering.
Ongoing reforms in the criminal justice system and “sustainability” improvements – that is, grown in bikeways and the use of public transit – are positive signs, as are increasing recreational opportunities. And arts related organizations, which numbered 81 when the city’s population was 461,000 the year before Katrina, had grown to 122 in a city where the recovering population was 360,341 in 2011.
However, there are numerous problems hindering progress, in terms of environmental sustainability, education, inequality and poverty.
As for the environment, the number of unhealthy air days in New Orleans surpasses that of Houston. Wetlands that afford the city hurricane protection continue to erode and there are signs of saltwater incursion in water bodies within the metro area.
Violent and property crime rates in the city of New Orleans are lower than they were before the storm but are still significantly higher than the national average, the report says.
A lack of affordable housing is also a growing problem: Since the year before the storm, the share of renters in the city paying what are considered unaffordable housing costs has gone from 43 percent to 54 percent.
Poverty rates, high but stable within the city, are growing in some surrounding areas.
And economic growth is uneven. “With 27 percent of all businesses being minority-owned in 2007, the New Orleans metro had a larger share of minority-owned businesses relative to its minority population than the nation as a whole,” the report said. “Yet, at a steady 2 percent of all receipts, the returns to these businesses have consistently fallen below the national average.”
“Despite all the shocks it has endured, New Orleans may be on a path toward long-term success,” the report says. “But to fulfill its potential, leaders must look to bolster current strengths and add to them by addressing persistent challenges.”