Low-income women have been slow to return to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina and those who have returned are not benefiting from the recovering city's construction labor market, a report released Friday said.

"Those who have managed to get back are clearly struggling," Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research, said at a news conference in front of City Hall.

She cited a quadruple increase in a government-sponsored food program in the metropolitan area as evidence of the hard times for many women in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Gleaning its findings from recent U.S. Census and other government data, the report said the number of single mothers in the area has dropped from 10 percent before Katrina to about 6 percent now.

The report also said the number of low-income female-led households dropped from 35 percent before the storm to 18 percent after.

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The report said women in Louisiana earned less than men and had fewer opportunities than men before Katrina, and that their plight will be worsened with the unequal playing field that was created after the storm.

One way of changing this would be for women to be hired in the construction fields, new City Council woman Shelley Midura said.

"Women can break Sheetrock, women can wire homes, and women can drive trucks," Midura said. "These are good-paying jobs."

Beth Willinger of Tulane University's Center for Research on Women said the labor force needs to be "totally integrated" both in terms of gender and race.

"But first we need to bring our women home," she said.

Jones-DeWeever was joined by several prominent women, including Midura and state Rep. Karen Carter, a Democrat and a contender in a Nov. 7 congressional race for the seat of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, who is running for re-election.