Race And Class In Katrina's Aftermath

Those are big questions as I'm sure you realize. The first thing I would say to you is that I think that there has been very little progress on addressing the race and class problems that Katrina exposed. Very little progress in terms of what is happening nationally. At the gulf coast level, the restoration process is painfully slow. Schools are not reopening at any meaningful pace, homes are not being rebuilt, people are not being able to, if not rebuild their homes, recover the equity or the value of their assets so that they can move on with their lives, jobs are not being created. The environment in the gulf coast, particularly in New Orleans, does not indicate at all that there is a commitment to really turning the situation around. So there is very little progress.

On a national basis when you focus on the class issue, a perfect example of little progress is the fact that the minimum wage rate has still not been increased. There has been an attempt to do that for a couple of years. The fact that the minimum wage was not increased most recently through the House and the Senate because it was tied to a state tax relief suggests that trying to tie the needs of the poor with the unnecessary, at this point in time, increased advantage to the rich really demonstrates that there is a class system that is focused on advantaging those who are already advantaged at the expense of those who are struggling to make ends meet. So I think that there is very little progress since last year.

As I focus on the gulf region I think that the number one cause of the problem is the failure of the federal, state and local government agencies involved in restoration to work together to cut through the bureaucracy and actually get things accomplished.

On a national basis, I would suggest that we have competing priorities and that dealing with these issues of the poor in this country right now is a low priority. There is more attention, there are more resources being invested in international policy and not sufficient attention being focused on domestic policy. So I don't believe that the issue of race and class in America is a priority issue and therefore it's not getting attention.

I still believe that particularly as I think of the Gulf Region there are solvable problems there. The conditions that people are struggling with are addressable. All it takes is a clear focus, a clear commitment, it takes some creativity, and it takes some determination.

I live in part in New York City. I live 6 blocks from ground zero. I witnessed first hand, on the front line, what happened on September 11th and what happened in the aftermath to turn it around. The movement, the pace of movement, the level of commitment, the commitment to resources, all of the things that were necessary to turn around a devastating situation in lower Manhattan, all those things they happened. Until that commitment really exists in the Gulf Region comparable to what existed in lower Manhattan, I believe that we will continue to be disappointed month after month, year after year. And the poor and disadvantaged and working class of the Gulf Coast will be no better off than they were prior to Katrina.


Times Picayune Metro Editor

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