The Post-Katrina Demographic Shift: Older, Whiter, Wealthier

New Orleans Katrina flooding

Last night, HBO aired If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, Spike Lee’s second documentary on the impact of hurricane Katrina. In the film, Lee returns to New Orleans to assess the recovery, providing an interesting portrait of how much the area has changed since the 2005 tragedy. Today, Nielsen released its own portrait of the city post-Katrina, finding that the Crescent City is now older, wealthier, and less diverse.

The study, a block-by-block analysis of New Orleans, found that after the hurricane hit, more affluent residents were able to return to the city faster. Nielsen reports that younger, upper-middle income renters have grown 31% since 2009. “If your house received 10 feet of water, it cost a lot to repair it and many insurance companies didn’t make settlements for almost a year,” Allison Plyer, of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, told Nielsen. “People needed money in the bank to start rebuilding their homes, and the neighborhoods that came back the fastest were the affluent ones. Those in poverty tended to be renters, and there was little assistance for rebuilding rental properties.”

Overall demographic analysis revealed the median age of New Orleans shot up from 34.0 to 38.8; diversity dropped, as Caucasian population increased 5%; and median income rose more than $8,000. Meanwhile, the report concludes that the storm hurt “decimated downscale, African-American-dominated lifestyle types,” with members of these segments the “least able to return to New Orleans.”

Such forced and rapid gentrification is altering the fabric of the city, and as researchers pointed out, this population change is expected to remain for some time. After Katrina, the city’s population plummeted nearly 40%. It has slowly crept back up to 1.194 million, still 10% less than what it was in 2005.

New Orleans demographic map after Katrina