The Recovery Divide: Poverty and the Widening Gap Among Mississippi Children and Families Affected by Hurricane Katrina: Executive Summary

Six months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a Columbia-led research team conducted a random household survey of people who had been displaced by the disaster in Louisiana. Mental health disability and psychological strain were rampant, people’s lives were chaotic, and their futures were uncertain. The children who had been displaced were often socially and medically adrift – many of them were disengaged from schools, without adequate primary medical care, and living among very fragile families1. One year after the hurricane, we replicated the study among residents of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast who had been heavily impacted or displaced by the hurricane. Based on interviews with a random sample of displaced and impacted residents, it appears that for a number of households the situation remains dire or is worsening. Furthermore, there is evidence of an economic determinism at work, in that those who had been struggling to maintain their financial footing at the time of the hurricane – the working class and the working poor – have been forced back down the socioeconomic ladder towards impoverished and dependent states. Recovery has become a test of resilience – who will bounce back, both in terms of people and in terms of geography? The premise of much recovery policy is to invest in geographically-based recovery – the bricks and mortar of critical infrastructure, housing, and markets – with the notion that once a place has recovered, the population’s recovery will follow as well. Findings from the Mississippi Child & Family Health (M-CAFH) study suggest that the population recovery – particularly among the most economically and socially vulnerable – may be lagging significantly behind that of other infrastructure recovery.