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Millions Fall into Health Care Coverage Gap

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Every day Richard Green, 67, wakes up in pain. He creeps over to the edge of the bed and sets his feet down, bracing himself for the day ahead. First are the pangs of putting each leg into his slacks. Then, he undergoes the torment of sliding each arm into his shirt. Even lacing his shoes, something he has done since childhood, is a test of strength. Often he’ll take ibuprofen before willing his knees and back to lower his body into the car and withstand the painful drive to work as an administrative temp worker.

About seven years ago, Green was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, the breakdown, bulging, or tearing in the spine’s flexible cartilage discs, as well as the narrowing of the spinal canal that houses the spinal cord. The worn discs put pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves, which leads to chronic pain and nerve damage.

“You learn to cope,” he explained. “You just have to move; it’s worse if you don’t. By the end of the day, I’m completely exhausted from coping with the pain. When I get home I just go to bed. Sleep becomes your only relief.”

And that’s only if his sleep apnea and GERD (a severe form of acid reflux) are tolerable enough to let him get a good night’s rest. Fortunately, his lifelong asthma and heart condition rarely give him any trouble.

Green, who is uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid, can afford neither a doctor’s visit nor the resulting treatments or prescriptions. According to his home state of Georgia, his monthly income – $850 by his account, and inexplicably around $2,000 by theirs – is enough to afford healthcare without the assistance of Medicaid, the federal insurance program for low-income families and individuals.

Green is one of 48 million Americans currently living without insurance in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. Of those, 7 million are non-elderly African Americans. Green’s age qualifies him for Medicare, though he doesn’t have it yet—if he opts in next year, he expects to pay a $150 annual deductible, plus incidental charges.

Without the benefit of Medicaid or Medicare, he will have to pay an insurance company directly for medical coverage. With the start of open enrollment for health insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Green might be able to get insured and access the care he needs.

Within the first year of the Care Act’s enforcement 14 million previously uninsured Americans are expected to enroll.

At the time of his diagnosis, Green was insured through his wife’s employment. Insurance paid for a $100,000 surgery, recovery, and medication, and he was seeing a neurologist. Even with the insurance though, his healthcare costs began to climb.

“Cost of care became such an issue I couldn’t continue [treatment]. It was an insurance problem, because you have out-of-pocket costs that come along with it,” he explained.

When his wife’s job downsized, his access to healthcare evaporated. And that’s why he is excited about President Obama’s signature health care plan.

According to Census data, 10.9 million African Americans today are living below the poverty level and most simply can’t afford even basic coverage. Although 68 percent of uninsured African Americans work, it’s usually in low-paying jobs that either don’t offer insurance benefits, or don’t pay well enough to cover the associated out-of-pocket costs of employer-sponsored coverage, such as co-pays, premiums, and deductibles.

The Affordable Care Act caters to uninsured and underserved populations in several ways. For starters, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions, a major issue that has long been a barrier to getting insured. The law also creates an easy-to-understand marketplace where people can compare the prices and packages offered by already-existing private insurance companies, all at once.

Theoretically, this ability to get legally mandated transparent, accurate quotes from several insurance companies, simultaneously, will force the companies to lower their premium prices to compete for buyers. A person can then choose from an array of affordable insurance plans, using federal- or state-run call centers or websites to access the marketplace.

Low-income citizens who are unable to afford the least-expensive plan offered by the companies in their state will be eligible for federal subsidies (to pay for insurance), or tax penalty waivers. This is where Medicaid steps in. Medicaid, which was created and built into the Social Security system in 1965, is intended to act as a healthcare safety net for low-income individuals and families with children. Originally, the Affordable Care Act called for states to expand Medicaid eligibility to those who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Today, that’s $15,857 per year for a single person, and $38,047 per year for a family of five.

But last year, as a result of Supreme Court case National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, the Medicaid expansion provision was made optional for states Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have enacted the Medicaid expansion, 15 have rejected the expansion—including Richard Green’s home state, Georgia—and 11 states are currently undecided.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in the states that aren’t expanding 5.2 million adults – 6 in 10 uninsured African Americans – are expected to fall into the gap between the original Medicaid eligibility standards and the least-expensive insurance coverage premiums.

Kansas City CARE Clinic, formerly Kansas City Free, is located in Missouri where Medicaid won’t be expanded. It’s one of the largest free clinics in the country, funded primarily through government grants and donated goods and services. Although patients are asked to make a $10 donation on every visit, no one is turned away for inability to pay or documentation status.

Kansas City CARE Clinic service area straddles both Kansas and Missouri—the latter having rejected the expansion, and the former remaining undecided. Kansas and Missouri have been at legislative odds before. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Kansas was a newly minted territory preparing to join the Union as a free state, which threatened Missouri’s slavery economy as well as the fragile balance between slave and free state representatives in Congress.

Of course, the Medicaid expansion probably won’t lead to another “Bleeding Kansas,” but there will be winners and losers when Kansas makes its decision. Although the state seems to be leaning toward rejecting the expansion, Kansas City CARE Clinic and other healthcare providers could end up with a split; expanded Medicaid would cover most of their patients residing in Kansas, while their patients from Missouri will fall into the coverage gap.

Because of this uncertainty, the clinic is implementing a billing system for the first time in their 43 years, so that they are equipped to serve those who are able to receive Medicaid or enroll in the marketplace and purchase insurance. Instead of the good-faith $10 donation, all patients will pay via income-based sliding scale, Medicaid, or insurance.

“We felt we had no choice,” says Dennis Dunmyer, vice president of community services at Kansas City CARE Clinic. “We wanted them to expand [Medicaid], but we feel like we don’t want to turn away the people who can get it because we can’t accept their insurance. We don’t want to turn anyone away. But it’s a different dynamic to say, ‘Here’s your bill’ instead of ‘Are you able to donate $10?’”

Richard Green lives in Clayton County, Ga.. In April, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal told a Fox News host that the Affordable Care Act “was a train wreck about to happen.” In a video made public by the Georgia Democratic Party, Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens tells an audience, “The problem is Obamacare. We’ve got to now determine what we can do to solve that problem. Let me tell you what we’re doing – everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

And that doesn’t help Richard Green.

“I’m hopeful but doubtful that I will be able to get insurance, because…I’m here with a governor who has decided to be totally uncooperative,” he said. “I’ll probably have to heck the federal market. Everyone deserves affordable healthcare. Hopefully [the reform] will help me, but more importantly, all those who need coverage and medical care.”

Many Poor Blacks in the South will Remain Uninsured

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGNTON (NNPA) – Even if healthcare.gov, the web portal for federal health insurance exchange, worked perfectly, more than 5 million poor, uninsured adults, many of them Black, will continue to go without coverage, because they live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, according to a recent brief by the the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Through the Affordable Care Act, the federal government agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion through 2016 and at least 90 percent through 2020.

The Obama administration planned for nationwide expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program that covers the poor and disabled, setting the Medicaid income eligibility at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $27,000 for a family of three. In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could decide whether they want to expand Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Commission, more than half of states, a majority in the southeast, decided not to expand Medicaid. That decision created a coverage gap affecting 27 percent of uninsured adults.

“A fifth of people in the coverage gap reside in Texas, which has both a large uninsured population and very limited Medicaid eligibility. Fifteen percent live in Florida, eight percent in Georgia, six percent live in North Carolina, and another six percent live in Ohio,” the Kaiser Commission brief said.

More than half of all Blacks live in eight states: Texas, Florida, Georgia, New York, California, North Carolina, Illinois, and Maryland.

According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, “The largest uninsured nonelderly Black populations reside in Florida (718,800), Texas (613,100), and Georgia (594,600). In addition, Blacks comprise a large share of the uninsured population in the District of Columbia (52%), Mississippi (48%), and Louisiana (42%).”

Florida, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana chose not to expand Medicaid leaving billions of dollars unspent, forcing many of their citizens to either go without health insurance or to sign up for health insurance on the federal-facilitated marketplace.

Because 40 percent of all Blacks are under the age 26, compared to 30 percent of Whites, the very people needed to make the health care formula work may be less inclined to participate.

According to the Kaiser Commission brief, “…With many states opting not to implement the Medicaid expansion, millions of adults will remain outside the reach of the ACA and continue to have limited, if any, option for health coverage: most do not have access to employer-based coverage through a job, few can afford coverage on their own, and most are currently ineligible for public coverage in their state.”

The brief continued: “While a small share may be eligible to purchase subsidized coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplaces, most have incomes below the poverty level and thus will be ineligible for these premium tax credits.”

During a Webinar for journalists, Rachel Garfield, senior researcher Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, said that in all states there are people who will continue to be uninsured, because of their immigration status, people who opt to pay the penalty, or people who are exempt from the penalty.

“One of the things that’s very important to keep in mind, as the law is unfolding is how is outreach working are people aware of their coverage options do they understand their coverage options,” said Garfield. “We are going to continue to shine a light on who is being left out and who is falling between the gaps for various reasons.”

Health Insurance Website Stumbles on Launch

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Last week, President Barack Obama said what many people who visited healthcare.gov to browse and buy affordable health insurance already knew: The website, tied so heavily to the success of the Affordable Care Act, wasn’t working properly.

“And there’s no sugarcoating it,” said President Obama during a speech on the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 21. “The website has been too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am – precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work.”

For weeks, visitors to healthcare.gov were greeted by error messages and maintenance pages that implored them to try again later. Some were even kicked out of the application process as they tried to sign up. White House officials called the problems minor glitches attributable to heavy traffic, but those glitches exposed much deeper concerns.

The Washington Post reported that government insiders knew of potential problems before the October 1 launch of healthcare.gov and that the website “crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.”

According to the newspaper, governments officials ignored warning signs and “Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.”

The problems with the Affordable Care Act rollout were also compounded by the fact that as White House officials crowed about the website, other modes of accessing the new healthcare exchanges were drowned out of the conversation.

“There are folks who talk about the website challenges, but once people find out that there are multiple paths to enrollment, then the stress seems to go away,” said Etoy Ridgnal, the national director for African American Engagement for Enroll America, an independent, nonpartisan healthcare enrollment coalition. “Most people that I talk to don’t realize that there is more than one pathway to enrollment.”

Anton J. Gunn, the director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that the Affordable Care Act is more than just a web site – it’s about getting people health insurance. That’s why there are four different ways to enroll: online, by mail, in-person, or over the telephone.

African Americans have a lot to gain with the success of the Affordable Care Act. According to a fact sheet released by the Department of Health and Human Services:

7.3 million African Americans with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost sharing. This includes services such as colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, Pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits, and flu shots for all children and adults.

An estimated 5.1 million African American women with private health insurance now have guaranteed access to women’s preventive services without cost sharing. These services include well-woman visits, HPV testing, counseling services, breastfeeding support, mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care, and other services.

The 4.5 million elderly and disabled African Americans who receive health coverage from Medicare also have access to many preventive services with no cost-sharing, including annual wellness visits with personalized prevention plans, diabetes and colorectal cancer screening, bone mass measurement and mammograms.

More than 500,000 young African American adults between ages 19 and 25 who would otherwise have been uninsured, including 230,000 African American women, now have coverage under their parents employer-sponsored or individually purchased health plan.

Even as the Obama administration scrambles to fix problems associated with healthcare.gov, Gunn acknowledged that many people, especially in the Black community remain skittish about disclosing personal information on the Internet.

“Not everybody wants to do business online,” said Gunn, an African American. “They don’t bank online, they don’t shop online. There are lots of people in our community like that.”

Ridgnal cautioned against an overreliance on technology.

“Nothing can replace good old fashioned organizing, good old fashioned door-to-door contact, face-to-face contact, the church being a major vehicle for communication,” he said. “There are so many folks within our community on the older side who don’t have access to technology and would never be comfortable registering via a website.”

That’s why the Obama administration funded navigators to help guide people through the process, including community health centers, and certified application counselors in every state.

Ridgnal said that Enroll America focused on having real people reach folks where they are and also used new and innovative strategies to reach people via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and text messages.

“Reaching young African Americans and young people of color in general is extremely critical for us,” said Ridgnal. “We are creating a pooled marketplace that will hopefully make prices more affordable for everyone, which means we need a diverse pool of consumers participating so that everyone can benefit from quality and affordable health insurance options.”

In an effort to raise awareness about the healthcare exchanges, Enroll America officials said that the nonprofit aired television ads during the first week that the marketplaces opened on BET and OWN in Dallas and Orlando and OWN and TV ONE in Houston and Miami. They did not advertise in Black newspapers or magazines.

As part of their outreach and education effort around the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace HHS, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said that they plan to use targeted television and radio advertising, as well as social media to inform Americans about the opportunities to sign up for health insurance.

The strategy includes high profile spots on the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball as well as Radio One and BET.com.

But Black print publications, which reache millions of African Americans, are not included in that advertising.

A spokesperson for CMS said that paid print advertising is not part of the media strategy at this time, because research shows that media consumption among young adults focuses on digital, television and radio.

But Black publishers say their products reach all age groups in the Black community, including younger Blacks attracted to their digital platforms. They said failure to advertise in Black newspapers and magazines is a lost opportunity to reach all segments of the Black community.

The strategy leaves many to wonder how effective the strategy will be in reaching poor Blacks with little to no access to the Internet, especially in states that didn’t expand coverage for Medicaid or set up their own state health insurance exchanges.

On the technical side, the administration recently announced plans of a tech surge to address the ongoing problems that users have faced at healthcare.gov. During a teleconference with members of the press, Jeffrey Zients, the management consultant pledged that services would be greatly improved by the end of November.

As IT experts work around the clock to fix healthcare.gov, the Obama administration has also increased staff support at call centers to field questions and concerns people have about the healthcare exchanges.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said that the call center has received more than 1.6 million calls, and average wait times for calls was less than 30 seconds, and 3 minutes for chats.

“The call center is an important way for you to connect with someone,” said Gunn. “Just like you would save your brother’s cell phone number into your phone or save your doctor’s number into your phone you should save 1-800-318-2596 into your phone. Share it with everybody that you know who is uninsured and if you have a question, whether it’s three o’clock in the afternoon or three o’clock in the morning, you can call that number and somebody will pick that line up to help you enroll in coverage.”

People who want to apply for health insurance coverage can find instructions here.

http://marketplace.cms.gov/getofficialresources/publications-and-articles/marketplace-application-for-family-instructions.pdf

Individuals and families can download and print an application for health insurance coverage here and mail it in.

http://marketplace.cms.gov/getofficialresources/publications-and-articles/marketplace-application-for-family-instructions.pdf

NAACP: New Exams Block Graduation

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By Christian Morrow
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier

Calling it a “present day form of Eugenics” 45 NAACP branches from Erie to Easton and from McKeesport to Mercer, have signed on to a letter calling on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education to end the newly enacted requirement for high school seniors to pass the Keystone Examinations in order to graduate.

“Attaching the Keystone Examinations to graduation is clearly based on the idea that it is possible to distinguish between superior and inferior elements of society through selective scores on a paper and pencil test,” the letter states. “Pushing masses of students out of high school without a diploma will create a subculture of poverty comprised of potentially 60 percent of our young citizens.”

In addition to the state education board, the NAACP sent the letter to the education committees in both the sate House and state Senate.

To comply with the Obama administration’s Common Core education standards, the Keystone Exams were developed to replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam long used to weigh and compare students, school and district performance across the state. It was first administered during the 2012-2013 school year. Though students in grades 3-8 will still take the PSSA.

In its current form, Keystone Exams test proficiency in Algebra 1, biology and literature, but is slated to add sections on composition in 2019 and civics and government in 2020. Sections on chemistry and American history are also slated for inclusion. The Keystones are more rigorous than both the PSSAs, and Common Core standards.

The graduation requirement, which would first apply to students 2017—current ninth graders, is also a requirement of Common Core, which states had to adopt as a condition of federal funding.

Students, however, can take any of the exams multiple times in order to pass, and schools must provide remedial work, structured study halls and teacher mentoring. For students who fail after that, the state has developed a project-based assessment that can be taken online with teacher guidance.

As a final option, students, schools and districts can apply for exemptions, which would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Regardless of the remedies, NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker said the policy is unacceptable.

“Our legislative bodies aren’t functioning for the people, and the schools aren’t educating our kids,” said Parker. “They’re just teaching them to pass tests, and not doing that very well. This policy does nothing to help young people of color, and it doesn’t help poor people of any color. It needs to go.”

Calls for comment from the Pennsylvania Department of Education were not returned by Courier press deadline.

Blacks Still Represent the Majority of Orleans Parish Residents

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By Christopher Tidmore
Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

The official numbers are in, and African Americans have lost aggregate population—and therefore political influence—since Hurricane Katrina.

A study of U.S. Census Bureau demographics by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center shows 103,881 fewer African Americans living in Orleans Parish compared to 2000, with just 14,984 fewer Caucasians in the City. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanics grew by 4,830.

And, Orleans is not alone. Population declines have hit the entire seven–parish New Orleans metro area—Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany—as well as the city.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 1,205,374 residents were living in the New Orleans metro area as of July 2012, a three percent increase from April 2010. However, the metro area has just 92 percent of its 2000 population of 1,316,510.

In Orleans Parish, the share of the 2012 population that is African American — while lower than in 2000 when it was 66.7 percent — continues to represent the majority of city residents at 59.4 percent. The share of Hispanics in the city increased from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2012; the share of Asians increased from 2.3 percent to 2.9 percent; and the share of whites increased from 26.6 percent to 30.8 percent. The percentage differences almost exactly make up the margins of victory of several Caucasian candidates running Citywide in recent years.

Overall, minority populations, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American, have increased as a share of the total population in Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany parishes. In fact, the number and share of Hispanics have increased in all seven parishes in the metro area.

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Hispanics in Jefferson Parish increased by 24,435, reaching over 13 percent of the total population. Orleans Parish and St. Tammany Parish gained 4,830 and 7,243 Hispanics respectively, such that, by 2012, the Hispanic share of the population in Orleans was 5.3 percent, and in St. Tammany it was 5.0 percent.

The GNOCDC found that as of July 2012, there were 98,992 Hispanics in the metro area representing 8.2 percent of the metro area population, up from 58,415 representing 4.4 percent of the metro population in 2000. Despite these recent gains, the Hispanic share of the population in metro area parishes is far below the average for the United States, which has grown from 12.5 percent to 16.9 percent of the total population over these 12 years.

And the New Orleans Metro population is growing older. The progression of the baby boomers through the age ranks, along with falling birth rates, have brought massive changes to the metro — and indeed the whole country — with many more changes yet to come. Looking at the total population in the metro by five-year age groups for 2000 and 2012, the baby boomers are like a demographic tidal wave. Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers clustered around the 35- to 54-year-old age group in 2000, and around the 45- to 64-year-old age group in 2012.

Meanwhile the share of households with children is shrinking while the share of individuals living alone is growing — both across the metro and nation. As of 2012, 27 percent of households in the New Orleans metro included children, down from 33 percent in 2000. Between 2000 and 2012, the percent of St. Tammany households with children declined from 40 percent to 31 percent; the percent of Jefferson households with children declined from 33 percent to 26 percent; and the percent of Orleans households with children declined from 30 percent to 22 percent.

As households with children have declined, the share of single–person households has grown in the metro and nationwide. The metro area share of individuals living alone grew from 27 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2012 — matching the trend for Jefferson Parish. In fact, all three of the largest metro area parishes had growth in the share of single–person households, with the largest jump in Orleans Parish from 33 to 41 percent.

Perhaps it is a result of post-Katrina out-migration, or due to an influx of young professionals, but the metro area, and Orleans Parish in particular, is better educated than it was ten years ago. It is a critical metric, as the GNOCDC authors Vicki Mack and Elaine Ortiz noted since “educational attainment is an important determinant of household incomes, workforce skills, and regional resiliency.”

The proportion of adults 25 years and older with less than a high school education declined across all three of the largest parishes, leading to a metro-wide decrease from 22 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2012. In the city of New Orleans, the share of adults with less than a high school degree fell from 25 percent to 15 percent, nearly as low as the United States average.

The metro area decline in the share of adults with less than a high school degree has been coupled with an increase in the share with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Orleans Parish, 34 percent of adults 25 and older had a college degree in 2012 — higher than the U.S. average of 29 percent, and up from 26 percent in 2000. The overall metro area share of adults with a bachelor’s degree grew from 23 to 27 percent — lower than the national average.

In another positive note, as Mack and Ortiz stated, “While the Great Recession pushed household income down 11 percent in the nation between 1999 and 2012, the median income fell nine percent in the metro and eight percent in Orleans Parish.” The metro area endured the recession far better, yet we still rank lower than the nation as a whole.

The 2012 median household incomes of $44,379 for the metro and $34,361 for the city are significantly lower than the U.S. median of $51,371. In a sign that population declines are being felt most in the affluent suburbs, in Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, median household income declined 14 percent between 1999 and 2012, falling to $45,519 and $56,650, respectively.

The rich and the young are leaving, and it is not getting much better for those living below the poverty level. “The economy,” said Mack and Ortiz “is not providing all residents with the ability to meet their most basic needs, including food, housing, and transportation.”

The poverty rate in Orleans Parish declined from 28 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2007, but then soared to 29 percent in 2012, such that it is statistically unchanged since 1999. In Jefferson Parish, the poverty rate increased from 14 to 16 percent between 1999 and 2012, and in St. Tammany Parish, the poverty rate rose from 10 to 14 percent. Meanwhile, the U.S. poverty rate grew from 12 to 16 percent between 1999 and 2012.

Like the overall poverty rate, child poverty rates in Orleans Parish and the metro area dropped in 2007 and have since increased again to their 1999 level. The Orleans Parish child poverty rate fell from 41 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2007, and then shot back up to 41 percent in 2012. The metro area child poverty rate dipped to 21 percent in 2007, but ended up at 28 percent in 2012 — unchanged since 1999 according to statistical testing. Jefferson’s 23 percent child poverty rate for 2012 is also statistically unchanged from 1999. Meanwhile, the child poverty rate has increased from 12 to 20 percent in St. Tammany Parish, and from 17 to 23 percent nationwide.

Post–Katrina, and perhaps due in part to the storm, people are buying cars. “The share of Orleans Parish households without access to a vehicle has dropped from 27 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2012,” said Ortiz, yet she added, “Nonetheless, at 19 percent, New Orleans’ share is more than twice as high as in neighboring parishes and the nation, indicating the importance of a robust public transportation system and comprehensive evacuation plan.”

New Orleans has always had a foreign born population, once bragging that the metro was the third largest city in Honduras. Post-Katrina, that trend has accelerated. As the GNOCDC writers concluded, “A rising foreign–born share of the population may reflect expanding economic opportunities for both high–skilled and low–skilled workers. That share of the population has grown in all three of the most populous metro parishes since 2000, led by a three percent gain in Jefferson Parish to reach 10 percent in 2012. In Orleans Parish and St. Tammany Parish, the foreign–born share of the population increased by two percent and one percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2012. However, the foreign–born share of the population in metro areas parishes is still significantly lower than the 13 percent average for the United States.”

“Like the foreign–born population, a rising share of the population who moved into the parish in the past year may reflect expanding economic opportunities. The most frequent reason people move long distances, such as from one state to another state, is for job opportunities. In addition, the young and well–educated are more likely than others to move long distances.”

Young people are flocking to the City, and the inner suburbs. In 2012, 8 percent of the population in Orleans Parish had moved into the parish in the past year, up from three percent in 2004. About half of the new movers into Orleans Parish came from outside the state of Louisiana. In Jefferson Parish, the share of the population who were new movers into the parish was five percent in both 2004 and 2012.”

Economic opportunity has also translated into renewed interest in real estate. As Ortiz and Mack observed, “After Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish initially experienced a disproportionate return of homeowners, but as of 2012, both parishes have returned to their pre–Katrina homeownership rates. In St. Tammany Parish, an increase in renters has pushed the 2012 homeownership rate lower than in 2000. With a 47 percent homeownership rate in Orleans Parish, a 62 percent homeownership rate in Jefferson Parish, and a 72 percent homeownership rate in St. Tammany, Orleans lags, Jefferson is on par with, and St. Tammany exceeds the national homeownership rate.”

And, thanks to the multigenerational and aging nature of the population, the New Orleans metro has had fewer foreclosures than the nation, the two analysts suspect. “A high share of such homeowners usually indicates residents living in the same house for long periods of time, and helps shield neighborhoods from foreclosures. The proportion of metro area homeowners without a mortgage has increased from 34 to 41 percent between 2000 and 2012, driven by changes in all three of the area’s largest parishes. The share of homeowners without a mortgage shot up from 33 to 43 percent in Orleans; from 35 to 40 percent in Jefferson; and from 30 to 37 percent in St. Tammany. One reason for the surge may be that homeowners who returned after Katrina used insurance or Road Home proceeds to pay off their mortgage principal. These three parishes received the first, second, and fourth largest number of Road Home Option 1 grants among all Louisiana parishes.”

Yet, thanks to low rental prices, New Orleans before the storm had a reasonable level of affordability. That has changed. As Ortiz and Mack noted, “High housing costs can limit a region’s ability to attract and retain the workforce essential for a healthy economy. Severe housing cost burdens of more than 50 percent of household income indicate a serious problem in housing affordability. In 2004, the share of severely cost–burdened renters in Orleans Parish and the U.S. was 24 percent. In the eight years since, that share has spiked to 36 percent in Orleans while rising to only 27 percent nationally. In Jefferson Parish, the share of renters paying more than 50 percent of household income on housing and utilities has also soared, reaching 30 percent in 2012.”

The surge in the share of severely cost–burdened renters is particularly seen in Orleans Parish. Median gross rent (rent plus utilities) has surged in the city from 2004 to 2012, from $688 to $861–a 25 percent increase. That outpaced the rest of the country where median gross rents increased only five percent, though metro wide there was a 17 percent jump.

Overall, though, in a positive sign, the share of homeowners paying more than 50 percent of household income on their mortgage, taxes, utilities, and insurance is unchanged in metro area parishes since 2004. Meanwhile, that share has increased nationally from 10 to 11 percent.

This article originally published in the October 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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