The portrayal of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who did not leave New Orleans before the storm as lazy and reliant on government aid is inaccurate, a study released Tuesday shows.
The study, authored by Georgia State University sociology professor Timothy Brezina, aims to punch holes in theory that many evacuees who were rescued from the rising flood waters stayed in New Orleans because they wanted the government to save them.
It is based on data from a poll conducted in Houston-area shelters by The Washington Post and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation just two weeks after the hurricane.
The majority of Hurricane Katrina evacuees were working poor who began looking for jobs just weeks after the storm displaced them in faraway cities, Brezina’s report shows.
“That’s my hope that it will challenge some of these damaging stereotypes that have plagued Hurricane Katrina evacuees,” Brezina said. “They have faced the stigma of being inaccurately perceived, of being uninterested in work and of waiting for others to act responsibly.”
Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed were employed before the storm, with half of respondents holding full-time jobs. And 60 percent of evacuees polled were looking for jobs at the time of the survey.
Just more than half said they didn’t leave town because they were unable, either because of lack of transportation or because they were caring for a family member unable to evacuate.
The powerful Category 3 hurricane scattered hundreds of thousands of evacuees across the country, a quarter-million of whom ended up in Houston. Former New Orleanians in the city have faced resentment from longtime Houston residents after violent crime spiked in 2006, blamed on the 100,000 Katrina evacuees who still live there.
Brezina said his report, which is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Social Problems, shows that evacuees were not plagued by a “welfare mentality” but by the overwhelming events of the storm. He also pointed to New Orleans’ lack of planning for such a widespread disaster as part of the problem.
The Kaiser survey polled 680 randomly selected evacuees at Houston-area shelters Sept. 10-12, 2005. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The Harvard School of Public Health collaborated on the project.
Kaiser officials say between five and 10 researchers, including Brezina, have requested use of the poll’s data. There are no numbers on how many of those researchers used the data to conduct their own studies.
— Associated Press
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