Persistent Low Wages in New Orleans’ Economic Resurgence: Policies for Improving Earnings for the Working Poor

Marla Nelson  (University of New Orleans) Laura Wolf-Powers  (City University of New York) Jessica Fisch  (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Published: Aug 05, 2015

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans has seen an economic resurgence, but too many jobs pay low wages . Many workers are traveling long distances to jobs for stagnant pay. In six out of seven parishes, out-commuting has increased since 2002, and many low-wage workers live in “wage deserts,” areas with high concentrations of other low-wage workers. This essay lays out specific policies to alleviate working poverty and lift the working poor into the middle class. Improving outcomes for low-earning workers is complex and will require significant investment, but if leaders make these investments, job openings in high-growth occupations can be filled by locals. With a more connected, better-resourced workforce, more New Orleanians will be able to participate in the post-Katrina economic renaissance.

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In the nearly ten years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, causing the levees to fail and devastating the New Orleans economy, the region has recovered nearly all of its peak pre-Hurricane Katrina jobs and shows signs of continuing economic strength. Entrepreneurial activity has grown faster than the national average and an influx of young professionals has helped reverse the decades-long brain drain, sparking a sense of optimism and evoking a narrative of resilience.

Despite New Orleans’ economic resurgence, many workers are stuck in low-wage jobs. The income gap has widened, with New Orleans ranking second in income inequality among 300 U.S. cities, and poverty remains entrenched. More than one out of every three children in New Orleans lives in poverty even though the majority of children in the city have at least one parent in the workforce.

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Citations and sources can be found in the PDF copy of the report.