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Why New Orleans recovery is a continuation, not a celebration

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The future of patient care is only one of the concerns casting a shadow over the Crescent City 10 years later.

    A new report out today has a sobering assessment of other problems plaguing its majority African-American community. Among its findings, in 2005, 44 percent of black children in New Orleans were living in poverty. That number has gone up to 51 percent. And the earnings gap between black and white families has increased by 18 percent. African-American households bring in roughly $25,000 a year, white households $60,000.

    The National Urban League study on these and other disparities was released today in New Orleans.

    I sat down with CEO Marc Morial to talk about it when I was in the city earlier this week.

    Marc Morial, thank you for joining us.

  • MARC MORIAL, President, National Urban League:

    Thanks, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You are the son of a mayor, former state senator, former mayor of New Orleans. And now, as head of the Urban League, you have come out with a report in which you have taken stock of what's happened in the 10 years since Katrina. It reads like a tale of two cities.

  • MARC MORIAL:

    It is a tale of two cities.

    New Orleans has long been, like many American cities, a tale of two cities. And I think it's clear, as you take this snapshot 10 years later, after this tragedy of Katrina, that it's still a tale of two cities, yes, with great physical rebuilding, yes, a city that survived a tremendous challenge. But that's why I think we have to look at this as a commemoration and a continuation, and not a celebration.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There's been so much conversation over the years about bouncing back. You talked about resilience, about the ability of New Orleanians to recreate what had been washed away.

    But let's talk about the issues one by one. Education, what does your report find?

  • MARC MORIAL:

    So our report finds certainly that you have got a higher high school graduation rate. But our report also finds that, when it comes to children, there are more children in poverty today than there were before Katrina, and that when it comes to education, while you see signs of progress, there are new schools, there's improvements in schools, the truth is, is that it's a school district with fewer students.

    It's true that these reforms have come at a tremendous cost to the city, and that cost was the layoff of some 7,000 mostly African-American unionized teachers almost 10 years ago. And that's left, if you will, a scar and pain on the effort to reform the schools. Now, it's all about what's doing best for kids. But I think it's important for people to be measured. At this point, it's like halftime.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    As I drive through the city, I see new construction, houses with solar panels, along the riverfront, new levees. This all speaks to an incredible rebirth in the housing market. Yet a lot of people say they can't afford it.

  • MARC MORIAL:

    What happened is that, literally, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of units were either substantially damaged or destroyed, and that there's been a great rebuilding that we need to applaud.

    However, there isn't enough housing in the city, quality housing in the city, to accommodate what is now a growing population. And that is indeed the case. So the signs of physical rebirth are everywhere. And I absolutely applaud that. But what New Orleans needs today is an effort to build more work force housing, more affordable housing, more housing that people can both rent and own in terms of where we are.

    So that speaks, Gwen, really to this point that this — in this 10th year, the focus should be on what needs to happen in the next 10 or 15 years. And building more work force and affordable housing I think is a must, or — or the recovery a and the rebuilding will stall because it will simply be just too expensive for people to be able to afford a decent home.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, apply that future-looking orientation to something like unemployment, where especially — black teen unemployment is high everywhere, but it's especially grievous here. How can that be? How has that been overlooked, or has it?

  • MARC MORIAL:

    I think it has not had the emphasis. I think the issues of equity have not been center stage in the recovery.

    Let's just go back just for a minute. At the very beginning after the hurricane, there was a Dallas plan. I call it a Dallas plan, because it was actually written in Dallas by certain business leaders for New Orleans that would have decommissioned, turned certain historic neighborhoods, middle-class and working-class and poor African-American neighborhoods into lagoons, and not only African-American neighborhoods, but neighborhoods like St. Bernard Parish, which were completely devastated, and which happens to be a neighborhood made up of mostly working-class white people.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So these decisions that were made stalled the recovery. You mentioned St. Bernard Parish, where recently they voted against raising taxes to pay for the maintenance of the new levees. Every house in St. Bernard Parish flooded. Isn't there some personal responsibility that the residents need to take for that recovery? MARC MORIAL: Absolutely.

    I think, when people vote against taxes, in this part of the country, it sometimes is also a reflection of the reality of people believing they can't afford to pay. But no doubt local governments — in New Orleans, taxes have risen a number of times over the last 10 years to pay for many, many things.

    Remember, you have got a smaller population base in the city today than you had pre-Katrina.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    As you read the results of this report and as a son of New Orleans, do you, 10 years later, feel more optimistic or less optimistic about where the city is headed in the next 10 years?

  • MARC MORIAL:

    I'm optimistic, Gwen. Let me tell you why I'm optimistic.

    I stood on the Ninth Ward levee a week after this hurricane, and I questioned, in my — in the depths of my heart and my soul, whether the city would ever be able to stand on its two feet again. New Orleans could have been — become a modern Pompeii, a modern Herculaneum, a city lost to Hurricane Katrina.

    The fact of the matter is, is that the city's uniqueness, its music, its culture, its standing, its people said, absolutely, this city must be rebuilt. So, against that backdrop, I'm optimistic.

    But I realize it's a very long journey, and what our report seeks to say is, look, we're all happy to be here at year number 10, as New Orleanians and as certainly champions of urban communities and champions of fairness and equity in America. However, the work that has to be done in the future, and the emphasis that needs to be placed on these issues in the future has to be greater than it's been in the first 10 years, if, in fact, this rebuilding and this recovery is not only going to be complete, but is going to be something we can all be proud of.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, thank you very much.

  • MARC MORIAL:

    Thanks, Gwen. Thanks for having me. GWEN IFILL: Welcome home. Thank you.

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