Monday, December 12, 2005

The Radar Screen is Broken

They know what it means to miss New Orleans:

Hurricane Katrina may have emptied whole sections of New Orleans, but it hasn't set in motion the great national diaspora that was widely foreseen. Instead, the vast majority of displaced households are staying close to their former homes, postal records show.

A Times analysis of address changes after the hurricane also highlights the metropolitan area's sharp distinctions of class and race. Poor blacks from the city were more likely to land farther away in places much different from home. In many cases, those evacuees stayed wherever government-chartered buses or planes stopped.

Evacuees from the suburbs, mostly middle-class whites, tended to find housing closer by in areas similar to their neighborhoods, which minimized the disruption to their lives and left them in a better position to return as soon as circumstances allow.

Despite the initial alarm over a massive migration that would irreversibly scatter the city's population across the 50 states, only a small percentage has landed more than a day's drive — about 300 miles — from New Orleans. Fifty-nine percent found new housing without leaving the storm-damaged area.

These patterns emerged from a Times analysis of about 325,000 address changes from Aug. 29 — the day Katrina hit — through mid-October, representing about a quarter of the 1.5 million households in the hurricane-damaged region no longer receiving postal delivery. For privacy reasons, the U.S. Postal Service excluded destinations where fewer than 25 families relocated — a total of about 30,000 households.

The findings provide only a snapshot of migration patterns. Migration will be in flux for a long time, possibly years, as thousands continue to lead unsettled and unstable lives in hotel rooms, trailers and other temporary housing.

"We should look at this situation as a kind of motion picture, and this gives us a glimpse of one scene," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan.

"I would bet that six weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now these numbers will be dramatically different," said Frey, author of "America by the Numbers: A Field Guide to the U.S. Population."

Address changes that have poured in since mid-October, however, followed the same migration pattern, the postal service said.
As the article points out, the diaspora, especially of the truly poor from New Orleans, is real; and if New Orleans is changed because of that, it will be because New Orleans was our national representative for Omelas.

But is New Orleans "off the radar screen"? Only if your screen is broken. And if it is, whom do we hold accountable then?

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