New Orleans Grew More Unequal After Hurricane Katrina: Report

04/26/2012 03:14 pm ET

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans came back more unequal than before.

That's the conclusion of a recent report from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a left-leaning legal organization. The report's authors argue that in the wake of the 2005 storm, reconstruction efforts were handled in such a way as to broaden the gap between whites and minorities in the region, and to make it harder for local people of color to find jobs.

"The limitations on labor and equal opportunity protections, as well as the inequitable application of federal resources, significantly diminished the opportunities and heightened the inequalities in the Gulf Coast," the report states.

That inequality has since become a matter of national record. A Census Bureau report issued last year found that in the period from 2005 to 2009, New Orleans had the second highest level of income inequality of any large American city. According to the Census report, only Atlanta had a higher wealth gap.

Race plays a huge role in economic disparity in the U.S., with blacks almost twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and with white households possessing a median level of wealth 20 times as high as black households.

One might expect that in New Orleans, a city 60 percent black and 33 percent white, inequalities across different strata of society would be especially pronounced. At the national level, the income gap between whites and blacks recently grew to its greatest width in more than a decade.

And that's part of a larger story -- namely, that income inequality has been growing more and more conspicuous over the past 30 years, not just in New Orleans but everywhere in America. Working- and middle-class wages have remained essentially flat since 1980 or so, while the country's highest earners have seen their paychecks grow bigger and bigger.