12-10-2016  2:25 pm      •     

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- New Orleans is a smaller city than it was before Hurricane Katrina, and much of the loss in population is among blacks who have been unwilling or unable to return, Census figures released Thursday showed.

In 2000, there were about 323,000 blacks in New Orleans compared with about 206,870 in 2010, making up about 60 percent of the city.

``Who recovered depended very much on race and class,'' said Lance Hill, the head of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a race relations research center based at Tulane University. ``We have forgotten that there are over 100,000 African-Americans who remain displaced.''

The Census Bureau said the Crescent City's population was 343,829, a decrease of about 106,000 people from 2005, the year Katrina hit.

``The empty homes are everywhere,'' said Dennis Scott, president of the Lakewood East Homeowners Association, a hard-hit neighborhood in eastern New Orleans. ``Right next door to me there's a family that hasn't returned, across the street a family hasn't returned.''

Many of the homes in his neighborhood have been fixed, while others remain damaged. And without the residents and lingering uncertainties about the state of levee protections, stores, a nearby hospital and restaurants remain shuttered.

William Rouselle, a political consultant, said the city's recovery has been uneven with black neighborhoods like eastern New Orleans, Gentilly and the Lower 9th Ward getting less attention. He said many of the blacks who haven't returned lived in public housing, most of which were razed after Katrina and are in varying stages of being rebuilt.

``You have to look at where the city has focused its redevelopment,'' Rouselle said. ``If you build it, they will come.''

Still, some areas were flourishing.

``Our progress has always been much bigger than a population number,'' said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. ``Today, our recovery is in a full gallop.''

Elliot Stonecipher, a Shreveport, La.-based political consultant and demographics expert, said previous population surveys show New Orleans is attracting a wave of young professionals while maintaining its ethnic mix.

``It really could have been so much worse,'' Stonecipher said.

He pointed out that even before Katrina, New Orleans was losing residents because of crime, a dismal school system and a poor job market. At its height, in the 1960s, the city had a population of about 650,000.

Census figures that look at education, age, homeownership and other details will be released in the coming months.

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