April 24, 2006


Katrina's Tide Carries Many to Hopeful Shores (JASON DePARLE, 4/23/06, New York Times)

LITHONIA, Ga. One afternoon last August, a young bus driver headed to an office in a suburb of New Orleans, humming the song to an old television show. He arrived just before his wife, who was pregnant with their first child and escorting four troubled teenagers from the alternative school where she worked.

At 24, the driver, Whitney Marcell, weighed 300 pounds, and answered to the name Big Man. His wife, Jeralyn, who goes by Fu, had just turned 28. She brought along the hard-faced adolescents because her own hard life had presented her with a gloriously teachable moment: Big Man and Fu, up-from-nothing products of New Orleans's roughest projects, were about to buy their first home.

"Are you sure you can afford it?" friends had sniped, but Mr. Marcell's only worry about the $86,500 loan was whether the terms would let him pay it off early. The couple signed a pile of legal papers and left the office owning a house in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

As he packed that night, Mr. Marcell returned to the song from "The Jeffersons," a sitcom about a dry cleaner and his wife who had risen to the black bourgeoisie. Like his television heroes, George and Louise, Mr. Marcell crooned about "moving on up," then startled himself by crying.

Two days later, Hurricane Katrina struck with biblical force, destroying the Marcells' new home, and chasing them to the outskirts of Atlanta, where they became part of the largest American diaspora since Dust Bowl days. But despite the loss of nearly everything they owned, the Marcells say they have moved up again.

The median household income in their new neighborhood is nearly twice that in the Lower Ninth Ward, and more than four times that in the projects where they had lived. Though they had recently worked their way out of poverty in New Orleans, the Marcells say this mostly black suburb offers much safer streets, better schools and a stronger economy.

The Marcells' journey illustrates one surprising benefit from an otherwise terrible storm: the exodus took low-income families to areas richer in opportunity.

It's kind of troubling how often the staff of america's leading newspaper is surprised by the utterly predictable.

MORE (via Tom Morin):
Movin' on up? : Two large-scale studies examine how neighborhoods affect the well-being of children and whether moving can make a difference. (TORI DeANGELIS, July/August 2001, Monitor on Psychology)

In two groundbreaking mega-studies, social scientists are examining how factors in poor urban neighborhoods affect a particularly vulnerable population: minority children and adolescents. These studies coincide with a major federal policy effort to improve conditions for the urban poor by tearing down urban housing projects and working to better integrate communities along racial and class lines--an experiment that's still in its infancy.

In one study, researchers are part of a government project to help poor families move to better communities. The study is showing dramatic results: Child and adolescent arrests for violent crime decreased by as much as 40 percent when the young people's families were offered the chance to move to affluent areas.

In the other large-scale study, social scientists are looking within poor communities to ascertain what helps some children fare well--despite where they live--while others are pushed into criminal behavior and academic failure.

These studies provide a fresh look at a subject tarnished by partisan bickering about race, class and poverty, study investigators say.

"From a research perspective, this research is giving us the best demonstration we've ever had of how neighborhoods affect kids," says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, a psychologist and investigator in both studies and Virginia Marx Professor of Child Development and Education at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Indeed, say researchers, both studies show that neighborhood characteristics and family factors seem to have a profound effect on how well children do socially and academically.

If only we could summon the political will to depopulate every urban area.

MORE MORE (via Tom Morin)
Katrina and China's whirlwind growth (Spengler, 4/25/06, Asia Times)

The best thing the US could do for the poor people of its urban ghettos is to expel them. One does not do poor people a favor by concentrating them in government housing (or for that matter refugee camps) where they depend on the public dole. Given the incidental costs of major hurricanes, there probably are cheaper ways to accomplish this, eg, simply pay them to leave.

This is difficult to accomplish in a democracy, to be sure, for the elected representatives of immiserated black Americans form a bloc large enough to thwart legislative attempts to better their conditions. Were the urban poor dispersed into the rich regions of the country, they no longer would vote as a bloc for the sort of congress members who now conspire to keep them poor.

It was the great luck of the poor blacks of New Orleans that a great wind came along to carry them away from servitude to their political leaders. The Black Caucus of America's Congress keeps urban blacks as political hostages, much as the regimes of the Arab world have exploited Palestinian refugees, whom they refuse to take in, and expel when convenient. [...]

Many of Katrina's refugees are ascending out of the humiliating poverty that blighted their lives back home. Now they will have the means to watch sex and violence on plasma-screen televisions, spend their free time in the esthetic dystopia of shopping malls, and worship in mega-churches.

Will more money make them happier? I do not think so, any more than the loss of traditional Chinese culture in the globalized urban jungle of the coastal cities will make Chinese peasants happier. With the admonition Careful what you wish for, I addressed that issue in a March 21 review of Rod Dreher's book Crunchy Cons.

What it will do, however, is enable them to contemplate their unhappiness with a sense of empowerment. People with money, education and opportunity may be as miserable as any illiterate dirt farmer, but they have the means - how did Thomas Jefferson put it? - for the pursuit of happiness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2006 5:35 PM

The staff of the Wall Street Journal is often surprised by the predictable ?
Are you sure about that ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2006 5:58 PM

Vote for Mayor Points to Change in New Orleans
Published: April 24, 2006

Mr. Nagin's strategists said that a larger trend might be at work.

Jim Carvin, the mayor's veteran campaign consultant and the engineer of every successful mayoral campaign here since 1970, [...] said that much of the New Orleans diaspora, predominantly black, might be lost to the city for good. [...]

Mr. Carvin said he was surprised at the low turnout among blacks displaced by the storm. "I think it was a serious underparticipation, which would seem to indicate that a lot of these people are not coming back, so therefore why vote," he said. "They have jobs and residences. We may have lost them as a population."

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2006 6:07 PM

Barbara Bush was villified for the same observation the Times made.

What a great story, though. God does bless America, even through hurricanes.

Posted by: Timothy at April 24, 2006 6:14 PM

Except for the Editorial Pages, the WSJ may be the most liberal major paper in the US.

Posted by: Pepys at April 24, 2006 6:40 PM

Timothy: How dare you complicate the issue with facts! Don't you know that Barbara Bush quote is supposed to be down the memory hole (until the next time the NYT uses it to bash Republicans, of course).

Posted by: b at April 24, 2006 6:42 PM

"Leading" newspaper? I suppose in one sense.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 24, 2006 6:46 PM

"Movin' on up" in a nutshell: Environment matters. [s]Ya don't say.[/sarcasm]

That's what "broken window policing" is all about, and it appears to work well.

Yeesh, Spengler can be a mope.
"Will more money make them happier? I do not think so..."

And a prig:

"Watching sex and violence on plasma-screen televisions" is no worse than "spending free time in the esthetic dystopia of shopping malls", which is the equivalent of "worshipping in mega-churches".

In the first place, I've seen a few malls which are wonders of design and decor, so maybe Spengler just needs to get out of the ivory tower more.

Secondly, what's with the anti-mega-church snobbery ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2006 4:44 AM

. . . what's with the anti-mega-church snobbery?

He's afraid that if he bumps up against an evangelical, he'll get "Christer cooties" and have to take a bath.

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 25, 2006 6:17 AM