I'm just back from my second trip to New Orleans in the last month, and even though we've been covering Katrina since October 2005, the devastation is still eye-opening. It's especially shocking that so little has been done to help those most in need, 20 months after Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast.
This is the "second tragedy" of Katrina. The first was the devastating storm and failed government response that left over 1,500 dead and a city in ruins. But the second tragedy -- a "recovery" that has failed to benefit the majority of those affected by the storm -- is no less astounding, even if the TV cameras have turned away.
A new report from the Kaiser family foundation, based in a survey of 1,500 New Orleans residents, puts some numbers on the fallout of the ongoing tragedy:
81 percent of those in the house-to-house survey said their economic or physical well-being had deteriorated.
More than a third said they lost access to health care, while 17 percent said their health had declined and 16 percent said they had mental health troubles. Almost a quarter said their marriages had broken up, their relationships had failed, or they were drinking more since the August 2005 hurricane.
And the second tragedy of Katrina hasn't affected everyone equally. The Kaiser survey found that race continues to be a major factor in who gets left behind:
"Anywhere we looked in the survey, in the stories people told us and in the data, we found the racial divide was confirmed, underscored," foundation president Drew Altman said in an interview.
Across the city, 56 percent of blacks said their housing costs went substantially since the storm, while 42 percent of whites complained of similar problems.
Forty-six percent of blacks surveyed said they were unemployed or employed in jobs that didn't pay enough, the study found. Seventeen percent of whites said the same thing.
In the hard-hit Orleans Parish, where more than half of residents are black, twice as many African-Americans as whites reported their lives were still disrupted by the storms. More than half of the parish's blacks said they have been treated worse and given fewer opportunities than whites in the rebuilding process.
And that's just New Orleans.
There's no excuse for the level of hardship still faced by hundreds of thousands of people and families, 20 months after Katrina. There's a lot that can be done to turn things around -- you can read some proposals in our report from last February, A New Agenda for the Gulf Coast (pdf).
But more than anything, it requires that we make Katrina a national issue again. The scale and seriousness of the problem demand a national, federal commitment to ensuring that entire region of people -- disproportionately poor and working-class, children, the elderly, and African-American -- aren't denied a better future due to greed and negligence.