Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

School Kids and Oil Rigs: Two More Pieces of the Post-Katrina Puzzle in New Orleans

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

School Kids and Oil Rigs: Two More Pieces of the Post-Katrina Puzzle in New Orleans

Article excerpt



On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Katrina was the third strongest hurricane of all time, killing over 1,300 people in Louisiana alone (USA Today 2006). It breached three levees in New Orleans (the 17th Street outfall canal, the New London outfall canal, and the Industrial canal), flooding the city, which remained underwater for two weeks. Thousands of people evacuated New Orleans in advance of the storm, but many stayed in the city and many were subsequently evacuated. In those parts of the city not directly affected by flooding, some grocery stores opened their doors, freely giving food, water, and other necessities, such as items for infants, to those who remained. Some stores, including those selling liquor, pharmaceuticals, and firearms did not open their doors, but had their merchandise taken. The reports of looting in the city after Hurricane Katrina were ubiquitous, almost to the point of being inescapable. Twenty-four-hour cable news networks, along with newspapers and the Internet, reported widespread looting beginning shortly after Katrina's landfall.

This article reviews previous research we have done on looting after New Orleans hurricanes and the socioeconomic conditions of the city over time that may have contributed to the varying rates. We expand that work to include a deeper analysis of two events--school desegregation and the oil bust--that, as we will show, had social and economic consequences for the city. Our aim is to show the importance of these two events in the larger context of the city's social and economic situation prior to the Katrina disaster and the implications these conditions have for the recovery.


Review of Research

We first draw on our previous research concerning looting in New Orleans surrounding three major hurricanes (the unnamed 1947 storm, Betsy in 1965, and Katrina in 2005) and its relationship to the socioeconomic conditions of those times. We measured looting by using the proxy variable of burglary, in part because the crime of looting was not introduced into the Louisiana criminal statutes until 1993 (RS 14:62.5). Insofar as burglary is an economic crime, it is reasonable to expect that the less economically well off are more likely to commit it. Police reports referred to the behavior now called looting as burglary before the early 1990s, which includes two of our three storms of interest. After Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department distinguished between burglary, that is, looting, and losses due to flooding with its use of a special code, 21K, for those reporting losses after the storm that could not be determined to be due either to burglary or to flooding as a result of the levee breaks. We choose not to use this call for service because of its inherent ambiguity; instead, we choose to use the actual burglary rate. Table i shows actual burglary rates (excluding 21K calls for service in 2005) before and after the three hurricanes that hit the city.

The burglary rate before Katrina was more than three times that in the month preceding either of the other two hurricanes. The increase in the burglary rate during the month after Hurricane Katrina was more than four times that of the increase after the other two storms. Furthermore, the burglary rate after Katrina was calculated using only those losses that could definitely be determined to be burglaries and not losses due directly to the storm. A majority of the poststorm losses reported to the police were coded as 21K. Therefore, the post-Katrina burglary rate may actually be much higher than what is reported in Table 1. (1)

Wanting to explain the differences in these numbers, we investigated New Orleans' socioeconomic conditions over the last 60 years. Other researchers have investigated the relationship between crime and economic variables and have found that in general, unemployment and low wages are associated with increased crime rates (e. …

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