NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans is narrowly retaining a black majority after Hurricane Katrina, according to a study released Wednesday by The Brookings Institution.
The study determined that while blacks left the city at a much faster rate than whites, New Orleans was still 58 percent black during 2006. Before Katrina, which hit Aug. 29, 2005, the city was 67 percent black, according to the U.S. census.
"It's certainly still a predominantly African-American city," said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at Washington, D.C.-based Brookings. "Speculation that there was not going to be a black majority in the city is not true, according to these estimates."
While several studies have examined utility hookups and postal deliveries to estimate the population that has returned to New Orleans since Katrina, The Brookings Institution study is the first comprehensive look at the shifting demographics since the storm.
Through a special arrangement with the U.S. Census Bureau, Brookings gleaned statistics from new census data also released Wednesday that the institution called a "fuller picture on who moved out and who is coming back."
The Census Bureau estimated that New Orleans had about 455,000 residents a month before Katrina hit and was down to about 223,400 in July 2006. Other studies have shown that the city has regained approximately 60 percent of its population.
Allison Plyer, deputy director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a nonprofit that has looked at population return to the city, said: "It's very important to remember these numbers are from last year and there's been significant change in the population since."
Plyer said an estimated 80,000 people have returned to New Orleans from 2006 through today. But like the experts at Brookings, she believed that the city's majority black population would not be supplanted.
"It's probably still true that the city has fewer African-American residents than it did pre-Katrina, but it probably has more African-Americans than it did last year," Plyer said, noting increased public school enrollment and other factors.
The Brookings study also found that metropolitan New Orleans had become "more well-educated, less poor and had a higher percentage of homeowners" since the storm.
For instance, 21 percent of the people who left the city after Katrina had less than a high school education, while 32 percent who have moved to the city after the storm are college graduates.