The Future of New Orleans Project, by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, asks authors, educators, leaders and entrepreneurs to comment on their vision for the city and what gives it world-class status.
I moved with my family to the greater New Orleans area a little more than six years ago, just shy of the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Previously, I helped lead the United Way system's national response in the Gulf states region following that devastating disaster. I developed a connection to New Orleans and southeast Louisiana in the process. Then, I was offered the opportunity to move to New Orleans and become a part of the United Way team here.
During that initial response and recovery phase, my wife and I noticed something different, something that seemed inherent in the people here. They genuinely cared about the well-being of others and seemed to have an almost instinctual need to care for one another. While the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina uncovered the raw realities of poverty for the world, this caring was exposed as well. We suspected it had been there all along. So, we came here to be a part of that and hoped to contribute to the renaissance of this great city and its future.
When I, or more importantly, when United Way of Southeast Louisiana is asked the question "What do you hope for the future of New Orleans?" the answer is simple. We want a future New Orleans where all children and families are healthy, well educated and economically stable. We want a future where no one in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana lives in poverty.
At United Way we listened and learned from 63 community conversations held across our seven parish service area of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington. From those, poverty emerged as the over-arching "big issue" that affects, in some way, everyone who lives here. Our region has higher poverty rates than the nation, 29 percent compared to 16 percent. We all know that poverty continues to be a significant challenge in New Orleans, but it's spreading to the suburbs and out-lying parishes where fully 56 percent of the area's poor population now lives. Median household income is at $44,004 - $6,000 less than the nation's, and slightly lower than it was in 1979. Fully 10 percent of families do not have a vehicle in the household, a major barrier to employment and access to health care. And 32 percent of renters pay more than 50 percent of their pre-tax income on housing.
Clearly, we have work to do.
Together we can create a stronger, better New Orleans for the future.
President & CEO
United Way of Southeast Louisiana