On the second anniversary of the hurricane that everyone knew was coming eventually, The New York Times featured a cute graphical piece updating us on the status of New Orleans.
It's time for a what's wrong with this picture moment.
A lot is obvious: population is down by 1/3, the labor force is down by 1/4, home prices are down by 15%, rents are up by 40%, and airline traffic is off by 1/4. The unemployment rate is about the same.
Clearly the private sector took a big hit, and has declined in a balanced way.
This is not the case with government services. Buses are down over 80%. Hospitals are down a tad less than 50%. Child care centers are off by 2/3, and about 40% of the schools are not open yet.
If you asked anyone in New Orleans prior to Katrina which would be more resilient - the local people or the local government - you would've been hard pressed to find someone who said the local government. And the proof is there - the private sector is off by roughly 1/3, while the public sector is off by 2/3.
I don't think it's unreasonable to start with a null hypothesis that with an honest, effective and credible local government that those declines should be close to one-to-one. They're not.
It's tempting to blame the Federal government for this, but really, what other disaster locations do you know of where people could get back on their feet but the government couldn't?
Did this happen in NYC after 9/11?
Did this happen in LA after the '91 riots or '94 earthquake?
Did this happen in the Mississippi or Red river valleys after their historic floods in the 90s?
Did this happen to the bay area after their quake in '89?
I can tell you one place where it did happen: New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. I am not making this up: there were abandoned and condemned houses from Betsy still waiting to be torn down when Katrina hit.
This is very sad, but for everyone who knew the big one was coming eventually, there was also someone who knew that the civil structures in Orleans Parish would be the biggest impediment to recovery.