But even so, his enforced exile was comparatively brief. The survey found that African Americans like Harper had a more difficult time returning to their homes in comparison to white residents. Just 39 percent of African Americans returned to their homes between one month and a year after the storm, a far lower number than the 63 percent of white residents that returned in the same time frame, according to the survey.
The researchers sampled 2,195 respondents—including people in New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans region, and in southwest Louisiana—through phone interviews from July to August of this year. Across the board, people attested that Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which made landfall one month after Katrina, affected their lives, though to varying degrees. “A lot of differences tend to be scattered. The statistically powerful relationship in how people responded was race,” said Michael Henderson, the research director for the Public Policy Research Lab.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, African Americans currently make up 32 percent of Louisianans and white residents 62 percent. But, in New Orleans, the numbers reverse, with African Americans making up 60 percent of the city and white residents 33 percent. Survey findings show that, in the city, 84 percent of the city’s current African American population lived in New Orleans before the storm, and that they “tend to have longer roots there than white residents.”
And, while a majority of residents moved back to the city after the hurricanes, the rate of their return affected how they perceived their quality of life today. Forty-six percent of the people that returned between one month and a year said their life was about the same—Harper among them. But if they returned more than a year later, 41 percent of respondents said their quality of life was worse.
Some residents, as may be expected, did not return. There’s a stark difference, however, between those who were perhaps unable to return to their pre-Katrina residence as a result of the hurricane, and those who decided to live in a different community. The survey shows that 31 percent—a plurality of residents who never moved back—said life was worse, perhaps because that decision was not made voluntarily. But almost half of the residents who are not living in the same place as they did before the storm said that life had improved.
In surrounding counties, a similar tale unfolds. In the Greater New Orleans region—which includes two of the hardest hit parishes, Plaquemines and St. Bernard—38 percent of residents living in a different community recorded a better quality of life in comparison to the 28 percent who didn’t return.
As far as residents’ view of their community’s quality of life, very few said it was better than before the hurricane—both in New Orleans and its surrounding region.