New Orleans Is Shell of Its Former Self

The Big Easy now has a smaller, much richer, and notably whiter population.

Posted: 02/07/2011 02:36 PM EST
Filed Under Hurricane Katrina

Besides a devastating loss of life and economy, Hurricane Katrina precipitated in New Orleans an almost eerie silence. The noise of the Big Easy had for decades been one of its main selling points—jazz, late nights, crowded restaurants. But after the storm came, the place went dark and then, quiet.

Sadly, new census data shows that, five years after Katrina, New Orleans is still a shell of its former self: much quieter due to a smaller population, much richer, and notably whiter.

The extent of the exodus after the August 2005 disaster can be gauged by recently released 2010 Census data. New Orleans lost 140,845 residents, a drop of 29 percent from 2000. The black population fell to 60.2 percent from 67.3 percent. The loss in New Orleans translates into one fewer congressional seat for Louisiana—now six instead of seven.

“The city is more affluent, more Latin, and a little whiter than it was before Katrina,” said Jacques Morial, a community organizer whose father and brother were its first and third black mayors.

New Orleans’ white population has grown 30 percent from what it was 10 years ago. And the city now has nearly 120,000 less black residents. What was once one of the most African-American places in America, with a population that was more than two-thirds black, is now less than 60 percent black.

Mississippi is doing better than New Orleans, with a population jump of more than four percent in the past 10 years. New Orleans, on the other hand, has lost nearly 30 percent of its residents since 2000.

What this means for the future of the city is clear: A once proud beacon of African-American history is losing some of its luster. New Orleans will always be an important part of black culture, of course, but Hurricane Katrina took a little bit of the city away, and that hurts.