Another Media Myth Debunked: Hurricane Katrina Killed Across Class Lines, Too

December 18th, 2005 5:20 PM

Last week, as reported by NewsBusters, Cybercast News Service published data that refuted the media myth that the government’s supposedly slow response to Hurricane Katrina had anything at all to do with race. This morning, the Los Angeles Times (hat tip to the Drudge Report) debunked the notion that class was an issue as well.

With a subheading of “The well-to-do died along with the poor, an analysis of data shows. The findings counter common beliefs that disadvantaged blacks bore the brunt,” the Times cut to the chase quickly:

“The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city's poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward, according to a Times analysis of data released by the state of Louisiana.

"The analysis contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit — that it was the city's poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane. Slightly more than half of the bodies were found in the city's poorer neighborhoods, with the remainder scattered throughout middle-class and even some richer districts.”

The article continued:

 “‘The fascinating thing is that it's so spread out,’ said Joachim Singelmann, director of the Louisiana Population Data Center at Louisiana State University. ‘It's not just the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East, which everybody has heard about. It's across the board, including some well-to-do neighborhoods.’"

What are the numbers?

“Of the 828 bodies found in New Orleans after the storm, 300 were either recovered from medical facilities or shelters that offer no data on the victim's socioeconomic status, or from locations that the state cannot fully identify. Of the 528 bodies recovered from identifiable addresses in city neighborhoods, 230 came from areas that had household incomes above the citywide median of $27,133. The poorer areas accounted for 298 bodies.”

A side of this that the media seemed to totally misrepresent: “Singelmann, of the Louisiana Population Data Center, said New Orleans was unique among American cities because, despite pockets of poverty in places such as the Lower 9th Ward, the city was remarkable for its integration of blacks and whites of different incomes living in close proximity.”

The article also went on to confirm the Cybercast News Service report:

“New Orleans was the site of most of Katrina's fatalities; the state reported that 76% of storm deaths statewide occurred in the city. Of the 380 bodies from New Orleans that have been formally identified, a moderately disproportionate number are white. New Orleans' population was 28% white, yet 33% of the identified victims in the city are white and 67% black.

"'The affected population is more multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural than one might discern from national media reports,’ said Richard Campanella, a Tulane University geographer who has studied which parts of the city were hit the worst by flooding. His research showed that predominantly white districts in the city were almost as likely to flood as predominantly black ones.”

This certainly makes one wonder how the media could have gotten this so wrong.  Hmmm…maybe not.

Of course, not all media outlets misreported the economic realities of New Orleans. In fact, the Free Market Project published an article on September 15 refuting these media claims: 

“According to the Louisiana Department of Labor, the average weekly wage for employees in that state has gone from $565 in the fourth quarter of 2000 to $658 in the fourth quarter of 2004, a 16.5 percent increase. This compares to an average national increase of 8.5 percent during the same period. Louisiana’s 2004 average annual wage of $34,216 is 1 percent higher than the nation’s average of $33,846.

"This means that workers in Louisiana have seen their wages increase at almost twice the rate of the rest of the country in the past four years. In addition, as the Consumer Price Index has risen by 9.2 percent during this period, wages in this state are growing 79 percent faster than inflation – contrary to Alter’s assertions.

"In the area in and around the city of New Orleans, the picture is even better. From the end of 2000 to the end of 2004, average weekly wages rose from $607 to $714, a 17.6 percent increase, or more than $5,500 per year. As a result of this wage growth, workers in this area earn 8.5 percent more than the national average. This means that since Bush was first inaugurated, workers in the most hurricane-impacted areas of Louisiana have seen their wages increase more than twice as fast as the rest of the nation. In fact, this part of the country has been experiencing a stronger economic recovery under the current administration than most of America.

"Also counter to the bearish tone of Newsweek’s article is how well the poorest areas of this Gulf Coast region fare compared to the wealthiest. For instance, the parishes in the New Orleans area with the lowest income levels, St. Bernard and St. Tammany, both saw average wage gains of 25 and 17 percent respectively since the end of 2000, or triple and double the rate of the rest of the nation. By contrast, the wealthiest parish of St. Charles only experienced an 11 percent average wage gain. So much for tax cuts only helping the rich. Finally, the two poorest parishes have average weekly incomes that are only 10 and 8 percent lower than the national average, respectively.

"Recent economic data for the areas in Louisiana most hurt by Katrina give a significantly brighter picture of this region than what was portrayed by Jonathan Alter in his most recent article, and what has largely been reported by America’s press the past two weeks.”