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Post-Katrina Report a Mixed Bag for New Orleans

Wed August 11, 2010 - National Edition
Kevin McGill - ASSOCIATED PRESS



NEW ORLEANS (AP) A report on New Orleans’ progress in the five years since Hurricane Katrina extols a “new spirit of reform and enhanced self reliance” and the remaking of the public school system, but it laments high crime, racial disparities and economic dependence on industries that are losing steam.

Encouraging signs in the fifth edition of “The New Orleans Index” by the Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center include the finding that the metro area recovered more than 90 percent of its population and almost 85 percent of its jobs, based on 2009 census estimates. In the city itself, the report said, the latest census estimate — 354,850 people as of July 2009 — means New Orleans has recovered 78 percent of its pre-Katrina level. But Katrina accelerated job losses in the city, allowing Jefferson Parish to become the region’s leading jobs generator.

While post-Katrina job growth stopped as a result of the recent national recession, spending on hurricane recovery and the relative strength of the oil and gas industry helped the area shed jobs at a much slower rate that the rest of the nation: a 1.4 percent loss between 2008 and 2009 compared to a 4.3 percent loss nationally.

There are signs the economy is beginning to diversify with more knowledge-based jobs, such as in higher education, legal services and insurance. By 2009, the report said, jobs in higher education surpassed shipbuilding and heavy construction and engineering to become the region’s fourth largest economic driver.

But “stagnant or declining legacy industries still dominate,” the report said. Those include tourism, shipping and shipbuilding, industries the report said have shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past three decades. Shipbuilding will take a big drop with Northrop Grumman’s recent announcement it will close the Avondale shipyard by 2013, eliminating about 5,000 jobs, by 2013.

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster may further weaken legacy industry sectors — especially tourism, oil and gas, and ship building — and exposes the vulnerability of these sectors to off-shore or water-related catastrophes,” the report said, calling the oil spill, Katrina and the national recession the three great “shocks” that the area has had to endure.