Many Katrina Evacuees In Houston Still Unemployed 2 Years Later

Rasha Madkour, AP, May 30, 2007

Nineteen months after Hurricane Katrina sent evacuees from New Orleans streaming into Houston, more than 5,000 heads of households among them are still unemployed despite the city’s booming economy, officials say.

The number of jobless is contributing to the sense among some Houston-area residents that the storm’s victims are a drain on the city and have worn out their welcome.

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Many had been holding out hope that they would be home in New Orleans by now, but the city’s rebuilding has been painfully slow, and about 100,000 are still here. They have settled in more or less permanently, some still on food stamps.

About 12,000 families are still getting federal aid for housing, the city said. Of that group, about 5,500 heads of households are unemployed, not counting those who are elderly and disabled, city officials said.

Houston’s economy is hot because of the booming oil and gas industry. City officials say there are 2 million job openings, 59,000 of which require only a high school education. Houston’s unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, versus 4.5 percent nationally.

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Sixty-five percent of Houstonians surveyed earlier this year by Rice University said the influx of evacuees has been a “bad thing” for their city. And some blame the new residents for a surge in violent crime. The number of homicides jumped from 275 in 2004 to 376 in 2006.

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The government already is offering considerable help. FEMA-paid housing has been extended to 2009 and federal officials will move an evacuee closer to a job. Thirty hours of work a week earns an evacuee free child care.

The city Community Settlement Task Force Network has spent $1.9 million since October offering resume help, free interview-appropriate clothes, job fairs, financial workshops, free food for children, computer classes, even hurricane-preparedness workshops. The money comes from $550 million in federal social-services grants that Congress authorized for all Katrina evacuees.

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Houston is sprawling metropolitan area, with a web of highways; New Orleans is more compact, and many residents there relied on public transportation—something not always available in their new city. Also, some single mothers are separated from members of their extended family and can no longer rely on them for child care.

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