When Evacuees Become Residents, Part 2
Before I get to the specifics of the Health and Human Services Commission's report Hurricane Katrina Evacuees in Texas, let me preface it by begging you to watch tonight's final two parts of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, which air tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO. It's a wrenching, heartbreaking, infuriating piece of work--a love letter to a devastated New Orleans and the entirety of the Gulf Coast, an indictment of the Bush Administration, a reminder that not much has changed in the last year and a cry for help that's still needed. Lee interjects nothing; he tells by showing, including the bloated dead bodies that float along rivers that used to be streets in a major American city. Rather than offer his own thoughts on the subject--you can find that here--the filmmaker spent months interviewing everyone he could get his hands on: government officials who still refuse to take the blame, journalists and professors only too happy to assign responsibility and regular folks who lost everything and found themselves blown to such faraway places as Utah, Colorado and, of course, Texas.
Those are the people with whom HHSC has concerned itself for its survey. But who, exactly, are they?
According to a demographic survey of the 251,000 Katrina evacuees still living in Texas, 98,000 are kids younger than 17 (most of them are 6 to 12 years old), while 153,000 are adults (68 percent are between 30 and 64). Those adults do not make a lot of money: 41 percent are bringing in less than $500 a month, while 42 percent are living on between $500 and $2,000 a month. Eighty-four percent are living in rented houses and apartments; only 3 percent came to Texas and wound up buying a house or condo. Eight percent are still sleeping on someone else's couch; 4 percent live in temporary housing.
Before the hurricane, 71 percent of those surveyed said they had jobs, while only 2 percent claimed to have been out of work for more than a year. Today, those numbers are entirely different: Only 30 percent of the evacuees living in Texas have jobs, while 39 percent say they've been out of work since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. And many of those who do have jobs now say that it's unlikely they'll have them in the next year or two if they stay in Texas.
Thirty-nine percent say they're on food stamps; more than half are taking housing subsidies; 32 percent are claiming unemployment benefits. Few are taking child-care subsidies, but that number is expected to explode in coming months. And, as of May, there were 71,000 kids in public schools--though the state expects that number to dwindle to 51,000 by this school year. There are about 4,000 children in private schools.
Forty-four percent of the evacuees say they've visited an emergency room within the past six months; almost half have been to a clinic, health center or doctor's office. Seventy-eight percent have had some kind of a health problem since Katrina--and 24 percent reported having physical or mental disabilities within the last year. Right now, only 34 percent of the evacuees say they're receiving social services--but more than half expect to need help within the next year. And 36 percent of all evacuees have no insurance whatsoever.
Most of the 66,000 evacuees who ended up in North Texas are African-American--84 percent, compared with 10 percent classified as white and 3 percent classified as Hispanic. There are some 26,000 children living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, almost half between the ages of 6 to 12. Most of the adults--almost 70 percent--are women, but they're of all ages: Twenty-seven percent are 20-29, 31 percent are 30-44, 29 percent are 45-64, and only 14 percent are 18-19 or older than 65. And 66 percent of the grown-ups who came up here are widowed, divorced, separated or have never been married. Which means a lot of single women living with a lot of kids, which is the norm throughout the state.
And a majority of them are making very little money: Almost 40 percent are making $500 monthly, while 33 percent are making do with between $500 and $2,000. And most of that money's going to rent: Eighty-four percent of those surveyed in North Texas are living in rented apartments or houses; only 3 percent who came here bought a place. The rest are crashing with friends or family or living in temporary shelters--which, apparently, are more permanent than temporary. Most want to own homes (67 percent) within the next two years. But that's only because at least 44 percent of the 66,000 evacuees here plan on staying in Dallas till May 2008, at least; 24 percent have no idea where they will live in two years.
Of the 40,000 adults in the area, only 13,300 have jobs, most in "service/sales," "clerical" or "construction" jobs; about 4,000 are business owners or consider themselves "professionals." About 16,000 of the North Texas evacuees have been out of work at least a year, if not much longer, and about 7,000 claim they're unable to work at all.
This school year, there will be about 15,000 kids in public schools throughout North Texas; there are just 800 enrolled in private schools. And 100 kids are being home-schooled. And most of the other stats line up with the state's overall figures: About half of the 66,000 have been to an emergency room within the past six months; about half are on food stamps; about a quarter have experienced some kind of physical or mental disability within the past year.
But here is one interesting statistic: When asked their "view of life in the future compared to pre-hurricane life," about 40,000 said life was going to be better. Only 6,000 said it was going to be worse. Everyone else figured, well, it'll stay the same. More to come shortly about what the state will do with these figures, if anything. --Robert Wilonsky