Apparently, this conventional wisdom is completely wrong.
Knight Ridder reports:
Four months after Hurricane Katrina, analyses of data suggest that some widely reported assumptions about the storm's victims were incorrect.
For example, a comparison of locations where 874 bodies were recovered with U.S. census tract data indicates that the victims weren't disproportionately poor. Another database of 486 Katrina victims from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, compiled by Knight Ridder, suggests they also weren't disproportionately African American.
Both sets of data are incomplete; Louisiana state officials have released no comprehensive list of the dead. Still, they provide the most comprehensive information available to date about who paid the ultimate price in the storm.
The one group that was disproportionately affected by the storm appears to have been older adults. People 60 and older account for only about 15 percent of the population in the New Orleans area, but the Knight Ridder database found that 74 percent of the dead were 60 or older. Nearly half were older than 75. Many of those were at nursing homes and hospitals, where nearly 20 percent of the victims were recovered.
Lack of transportation was assumed to be a key reason that many people stayed behind and died, but at many addresses where the dead were found, their cars remained in their driveways, flood-ruined symbols of fatal miscalculation.
The addresses where bodies were recovered were compiled by Louisiana state officials and released earlier this month. Knight Ridder charted the locations on a map of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, then compared them with census data on income in those neighborhoods. The analysis excluded 216 bodies that were recovered from hospitals and nursing homes, as well as 63 recovered at collection points where people had dropped off bodies in the days after the storm ...
The comparison showed that 42 percent of the bodies found in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes were recovered in neighborhoods with poverty rates higher than 30 percent. That's only slightly higher than the 39 percent of residents who lived in such neighborhoods, according to the census data.
Similarly, 31 percent of the bodies turned up in areas with poverty rates below 15 percent, where 30 percent of the population lived.
The median household income in neighborhoods where Katrina victims were recovered was about $27,000 a year, just under the $29,000 median for the overall area.
One-fourth of Katrina deaths fell in census tracts with median incomes above $35,300. One-fourth of the area's pre-storm population lived in tracts with median incomes above $37,000.
About 67 percent of the mapped deaths fell in the central and western portion of New Orleans, an area thought to have flooded primarily because of the failure of man-made structures.
The separate Knight Ridder database of 486 Katrina victims was compiled from official information released by state and federal authorities and interviews with survivors of the dead. It catalogued deaths according to location, race, age, name and cause of death.
In that database, African Americans outnumbered whites 51 percent to 44 percent. In the area overall, African Americans outnumber whites 61 percent to 36 percent.
In Orleans Parish, 62 percent of known Katrina victims were African American, compared with 66 percent for the total parish population.
In St. Bernard Parish, 92 percent of the identified victims were white. Census figures show that 88 percent of parish residents identified themselves as white.
Among hurricane victims on the Knight Ridder list, men outnumbered women 51 percent to 49 percent, about the same as in the overall area before the storm.
Of course, deaths are not the only measure of Katrina's impact. It may well be, for instance, that the people left dispossessed by the hurricane are disproportionately poor and/or black; it is very likely that people with few resources will find recovery more diffcult. But Katrina's dead were certainly the starkest evidence of the hurricane's devastating impact; and we were told that those dead had been killed by racism and economic injustice, by societal and political indifference to the plight of black people and poor people. So the Knight Ridder investigation does, in fact, seem to knock down Katrina's central myth.
Is it reasonable to expect apologies from the people who claimed that the deaths were a form of "genocide" caused by Bush racism?Reasonable, yes; realistic, no.
Meanwhile, GayPatriot.com suggests one obvious conclusion: "George Bush hates old people!"
On a more serious note: the paucity of coverage this story has received is disappointing, and rather remarkable. The article was released by Knight Ridder on December 30 and picked up by 22 Knight-Ridder newspaper, but few featured it very prominently. Only three -- The Charlotte Observer, The Akron Beacon Journal, and The Bradenton Herald (Florida) -- ran it on the front page; most buried it well inside. The analysis has received no mention in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today; there has not been a single editorial commenting on it, from any of the papers that told us all about how Katrina has exposed the inequities of race and class in America.
No wonder a lot of people think there really is a "liberal media."
Rather surprisingly, the blogosphere has also paid little attention to this debunking of Katrina myths. Yet this is an important story which says a great deal about the knee-jerk acceptance of claims that support conventional wisdom about America's social ills. It should be reported more widely, and there should be more apologies.