Katrina Brought Poverty in America to the Front Page
Unfortunately, journalists havenít
accurately reported the data involved.
Free Market Project
October 14, 2005
Catastrophic events in Americaís cities have a tendency to generate
discussions about race, class, and poverty. The Watts riots in 1965,
as well as the Rodney King riots in 1992 are fine examples.
Hurricane Katrina has sparked another such debate. Unfortunately,
Americaís media are relying on consistently questionable or
out-of-date statistics to not only exaggerate the problem, but to
blame President Bush.
¬†¬†¬†¬† An October 12 Associated Press
story detailed a new
report on poverty by the liberal Brookings Institution. More
than 100 newspapers and news Web sites ran it or published a story
related to the original report. APís Juliana Barbassa described the
findings: ďFresno has the nation's highest concentration of
residents in extremely poor neighborhoods, according to a study
released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, the Washington,
D.C.-based think tank.Ē
¬†¬†¬†¬† But it didnít take her long to hit big problems. ďNew
Orleans, second on the list, had its deep racial and economic rifts
exposed by Hurricane Katrina,Ē she explained.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Only a few of the more than 100 articles on this
subject recognized that the bulk of the Brookings study was based on
data released five years ago. The U.S. Census Bureau published a
report on poverty based upon 2004 numbers in August. Not one of
the articles studied reported that poverty in New Orleans has
actually declined since President Bush entered the White House.
¬†¬†¬†¬† As illustrated in the Census Bureauís American
Community Survey Ranking
table, New Orleans in the year 2000 had the fifth highest
poverty rate in the nation at 26.3 percent. Yet, in the ACSís 2004
rankings, New Orleans dropped into a tie for twelfth highest at
23.2 percent, or a 12 percent improvement since Bush took office.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Yet, many of these articles stated that poverty has
gotten worse since 2000 in urban areas across the country. Bush
administration budget cuts were cited as the culprit. For instance,
wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "Centennial Place is
a poster child for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development's HOPE VI program, created under President George Bush,
supported by President Bill Clinton and bled to near death by the
current White House's budget cuts."
¬†¬†¬†¬† And, the previously mentioned AP article stated: ďBut
the successful program, created under the first Bush administration
and supported by President Clinton, has been hurt by the current
president's budget cuts, [primary author of the report Alan] Berube
¬†¬†¬†¬† At issue here is a program enacted by President George
H. W. Bush in 1992 called ďHOPE VI.Ē Under the direction of the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, it sought to tear down
distressed public housing in cities across the country, and replace
it with redesigned, mixed-income units. Residents of the original
buildings were given housing vouchers to be able to afford rents in
¬†¬†¬†¬† The success of this program has been hotly debated. For
instance, William W. Beach of The Heritage Foundation
wrote of this program in June:
ďPeriodically, a new form of
project-based program is adopted as a Ďreform,í but it too tends to
fall out of favor after several years of disappointing results. The
most recently created form of project-based assistance is called
HOPE VI, but high costs relative to benefits have led the
Administration to terminate the program in 2006.Ē
¬†¬†¬†¬† It doesnít
appear that recent cuts to HOPE VI funding have had a negative
impact on New Orleans. In fact, of the top 20 highest poverty-ridden
cities by percentage in the Census survey of 2000, eight of them
have seen declines in poverty in the past four years even as funding
for this program has declined. Joining New Orleans on this list are
Miami, Buffalo, Cleveland, Fresno, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and
¬†¬†¬†¬† Finally, something that all of these articles neglected
is that overall funding for HUD has dramatically increased since
Bush took office. For instance, in President Clintonís first term,
HUD funding only increased by 9 percent. In his second term, it
increased by 23%. Yet, in Bushís first term, HUD funding increased
by 26 percent.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Regardless of the debate concerning how these funds
should be spent, the media have misrepresented a cut in one aspect
of an agencyís budget to suggest a reduction in funding for the
entire department as well as for the cure of one of societyís ills.
¬†¬†¬†¬† As previously addressed by the
Free Market Project, the misrepresentations began just before
Katrina made landfall when the Census Bureau released poverty
statistics for 2004, and
continued with some of Americaís top weeklies once the
devastation in New Orleans occurred. Now, more than six weeks later,
the finger pointing continues.
Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and contributing
writer for the Free Market Project. He is also contributing editor
of the Media Research Centerís NewsBusters.org. Noel welcomes
feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.