The Recovery Divide: Poverty and the Widening Gap Among Mississippi Children and Families Affected by Hurricane Katrina

Abramson, David M.; Garfield, Richard M.; Redlener, Irwin E.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a Columbia-led research team conducted a random household survey of people who had been displaced by the disaster in Louisiana. Mental health disability and psychological strain were rampant, people’s lives were chaotic, and their futures were uncertain. The children who had been displaced were often socially and medically adrift – many of them were disengaged from schools, without medical homes, and living among very fragile families1. One year after the hurricane, we replicated the study among residents of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast who had been heavily impacted or displaced by the hurricane. Based on interviews conducted with randomly sampled residents, it appears that the situation remains dire or is worsening for a number of people. Furthermore, there is evidence of an economic determinism at work, in that those who had been struggling to maintain their financial footing at the time of the hurricane – particularly the working class and the working poor – have been forced back down the socioeconomic ladder towards impoverishment and dependency.
The first wave of research on populations affected by Katrina reflected the impact of the initial response – consequences of evacuation, displacement, and massive economic and social loss2. One year out from the hurricane, circumstances are driven by the opportunities for long-term recovery, or by the boundaries of how far people can recover. Recovery has become a test of resilience – who will bounce back, both in terms of people and in terms of geography? The premise of much recovery policy is to invest in geographically-based recovery – the bricks and mortar of critical infrastructure, housing, and markets – with the notion that once a place has recovered, the population’s recovery will follow as well. Findings from the Mississippi Child & Family Health (M-CAFH) study suggest that the population recovery – particularly among the most economically and socially vulnerable – may be lagging significantly behind that of other infrastructure recovery.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
National Center for Disaster Preparedness
Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Heath
Published Here
June 21, 2012