Hurricane Katrina landed on August 28, 2005 with 135mph winds and a 14 foot storm surge. It was the 6th strongest hurricane on record and the deadliest since 1928. In the wake of the disaster, using a variety of data sources and estimation techniques, The Nielsen Company put together a block-by-block portrait of the area so local officials, retailers and service providers could better predict what residents needed, where they were located and which communities were likely to return the soonest.
Leaving New Orleans
According to the 2000 Census, New Orleans was the 35th largest market in the U.S. with 1.32MM persons. Just before and shortly after Katrina, the New Orleans area lost 595,205 persons—most migrating to nearby counties to the north or to Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.
In 2005, New Orleans dropped to the 59th largest market with 793,970 persons but then quickly recovered to the 49th largest market in 2006 with 993,071 persons. As of 2010, it has moved-up a few positions to the 46th largest market with 1,194,196 persons and is expected to retain that ranking in 2015 with a projected population of 1,264,365. The net result as of 2010, is that the New Orleans market dropped 11 positions in terms of its size relative to other markets within the U.S. (which grew by 4.7%) and is expected to remain so in the mid-term future.
As the number of residents receded then return, the underlying demographics of New Orleans saw significant shifts. Since the storm, the city has become older (the median age rose from 34.0 to 38.8), less diverse (the white non-Hispanic population increased from 25.8 percent to 30.9 percent) and a bit wealthier (median income rose from $31,369 to $39,530).
Across New Orleans, the storm decimated downscale, African-American-dominated sectors. The eastern part of the city in low-lying areas took the brunt of the flooding, and members of these segments were least able to return to New Orleans. In Orleans Parish, the percentage of African Americans initially dropped from 67 percent to 58 percent in 2007 before returning to 61 percent in 2010.
“If your house received 10 feet of water, it cost a lot to repair it and many insurance companies didn’t make settlements for almost a year,” said Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. “People needed money in the bank to start rebuilding their homes, and the neighborhoods that came back the fastest were the affluent ones. Those in poverty tended to be renters, and there was little assistance for rebuilding rental properties.” Among the lifestyle segments that actually grew were younger, upper-middle income renters (up 31% in 2009 compared to 2005) due to an influx of relatively upscale, younger residents who rent.
While the challenges facing New Orleans may have been profound, they were by no means unique. From tornadoes and earthquakes to fires and chemical spills, natural and man-made calamities test a community’s ability to gather and disseminate accurate population information to help indicate current status, progress and prognosis. “Absent data, it’s hard to make a credible case that you’re back,” says Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO, Inc., the economic development alliance for the greater New Orleans area. “Data is critical to attracting businesses and selling the city to people who would locate here.”
Download a detailed regional and demographic breakdown of post-Katrina New Orleans.