For the data and analysis behind this presentation, check out The New Orleans Index at Six.
For a quick overview of the findings from The New Orleans Index at Six, check out our five–minute video briefing.
Updated: October 7, 2011
These slides go along with The New Orleans Index at Six. The Index provides the most up–to–date data on New Orleans’ transition from recovery to transformation. It is intended to be part of an ongoing series of reports that measure progress and prosperity in the greater New Orleans area with indicators selected from reliable data sources that are regularly updated to allow for tracking going forward.
In the six years since Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures inundated 80 percent of New Orleans and much of the metro area, the world has witnessed new devastation with earthquakes in Haiti and China, floods in Pakistan, and the tsunami that wiped out huge portions of Japan. Closer to home, tornados destroyed much of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. These disasters place new urgency on understanding the lessons learned post–Katrina and the pace and trajectory of recovery in the New Orleans region.
Researchers studying disasters stretching back more than a century found that catastrophes the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina often accelerate pre–existing trends. Yet this same research also reveals cases where regions hit by disaster broke from their historical path when residents and leaders used the interruption in the status quo to transform key institutions while taking advantage of massive rebuilding investments to strengthen those institutions. Concurrently they capitalized on emerging economic opportunities tor strengthen their economies.
New Orleans’ case is particularly striking because the region was hit by not one crisis but three in five years: Katrina, the Recession, and the oil spill. Despite this, there is evidence that suggests the region may be on the path to transformation.
For the sixth anniversary of Katrina, Brookings Institution Press is releasing an edited volume entitled Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita. In this book scholars document measurable progress in the transformation of public education, health care delivery, criminal justice, and evacuation planning, the installation of an inspector general, the adoption of a citywide master plan, and a measurable rise in civic engagement. Indeed New Orleanians have arguably taken on more reform efforts simultaneously than any other modern American city. Yet the authors of Resilience and Opportunity remain only cautiously optimistic, as some of this progress is under threat, and much of it is dependent on one–time federal dollars.
Relying on 20 key indicators, the New Orleans Index at Six measures the extent to which reform efforts to date are putting the New Orleans metro on a new trajectory toward greater prosperity, inclusion, and sustainability.
In short our research finds that Greater New Orleans continues to recover and in some ways is rebounding “better than before”. Yet several trends remain troubling, and indicate significant challenges ahead. New Orleans and its partners must expand on progress to date, and act on emerging economic opportunities in order to further the region on its path to transformation.
Here are some of the positive trends: The New Orleans economy has weathered the Recession relatively well — buffered by the “stimulus” of billions of dollars of public and private post–Katrina rebuilding investments. Since 2008, the New Orleans metro lost 0.1 percent of all jobs while the nation lost 4.5 percent of jobs.
Looking at median household incomes, we see that while the recession pushed incomes down 7 percent nationwide over the last decade, incomes in the New Orleans metro held steady.
Looking at our economic driver industries some positive trends include the growth of knowledge–based industries. Let’s focus in on those for the moment.
Higher education, legal services, and insurance agencies that serve clients outside the region, have begun to emerge as important economic drivers in our metro economy. Jobs in these three industries have grown from 10,000 in 1980 to 17,000 in 2010. And jobs in higher education grew to surpass ship building to become the fourth largest economic driver in the metropolitan area.
Average wages began to grow before Katrina, and then surged 15 percent post–Katrina. They are now nearly on par with the national average for the first time since 1984.
Entrepreneurship has spiked post–Katrina and remains well above the national average.
The number of relatively large arts and culture nonprofits in New Orleans has grown from 81 in 2004 to 98 in 2008 despite a smaller population to support this growth.
Schools across the metro have made significant improvements with the largest gains in Orleans. In 2003, 23 percent of students in Orleans public schools (including charters) attended schools that pass state standards. Today, 68 percent of students in Orleans attend schools that pass state standards.
Yet several trends remain troubling.
Despite the short term stimulus from rebuilding investments, the New Orleans region is still largely reliant on legacy industries in decline.
The three largest economic driver industries—tourism, oil and gas, and shipping and logistics—have shed tens of thousands of jobs over the last three decades, and the gains in knowledge–based industries have not made up for the losses in these top three drivers. This reliance on older industries doesn’t bode well for future job growth.
Although the percent of adults with a college education in the metro area has grown, these gains lag national gains. 26 percent of New Orleans metro adults have a bachelor’s degree compared to 28 percent nationwide, and 54 percent of adults locally have at least some college compared to 57 percent nationally.
Black and Hispanic households earn 50 percent and 30 percent less than white households, respectively. And income disparities in the New Orleans metro are increasingly stark as compared to national disparities.
Before Katrina, the number of people living in poverty was growing in the suburbs while it was declining in the city. This trend toward suburbanization of poverty accelerated post–Katrina, and today the surrounding parishes are home to the majority of the metro’s impoverished population.
Housing costs spiked post–Katrina and 55 percent of New Orleans renters paid more than 35 percent of their pre–tax household income on rent and utilities in 2009, up from 43 percent in 2004. At 33 percent, New Orleans homeowners are burdened with housing costs at rates higher than the nation.
Although violent and property crime rates in the city have fallen to below pre–Katrina levels…
…public safety continues to be a significant problem in New Orleans with violent crime rates 80 percent higher the national average.
Fully 29 percent of the coastal wetlands that protect the New Orleans metro has been converted to open water since 1932.
Although enormous progress has been made in New Orleans in the last six years, leaders must be vigilant to sustain and expand on that progress for the long term. The public education, health care, housing, and criminal justice reforms underway have significant potential to raise the standard of living for families who have struggled to break out of poverty, and at the same time build a safer and more just community for everyone. These reforms have been greatly aided by massive federal rebuilding investments, but over the long term New Orleans will need a stronger economy in order to further prosperity and inclusion in the region.
There are currently significant opportunities to grow the economy by helping new and existing industries better tap the growth in emerging world markets. Just as residents and civic and political leaders came together to tackle health care, public education, ethics, and criminal justice reform, that same collective energy is needed to strengthen the economy and capitalize on these emerging opportunities. Specifically, the region must collectively work on an economic agenda that leverages competitive strengths in shipping, energy, engineering, and higher education to expand into rapidly growing industries such as oil spill remediation, wind energy manufacturing, carbon storage, and water management. This agenda could include tapping new entrepreneurial networks to help older industries make the transition to new products and services. Importantly, this agenda must include workforce training well matched to the needs of emerging industries. An effective workforce development system will be critical to ensuring that New Orleans can grow knowledge industries as well as higher paying jobs.
While growing the economy and lifting up opportunities for all residents are essential, perhaps more important still are additional flood risk reduction efforts. State and federal leaders must invest in extensive wetland restoration and New Orleanians should lead by example by implementing many of the good Dutch–inspired ideas in the city’s master plan for integrating water into the city’s form and function. These efforts will be crucial to provide greater security for those who have returned and rebuilt, so that the catastrophe of 2005 will not be repeated.
The purpose of this year’s report is to provide New Orleanians and our federal, state, and philanthropic partners with the facts we need to understand our progress to date, and to determine where we go from here.