Black New Orleanians not only make less money compared to white residents but also to Black workers in four other major Southern cities, according to a new report.
The report, issued this month by the Data Center, looks at Black per capita income across the cities in 2021, adjusted for cost of living. The research nonprofit found that Black workers in the Crescent City made 22% less than Black residents in Atlanta and 21% less than Black workers in Nashville. Black New Orleanians also earned 19% less than their peers in Charlotte, North Carolina and 16% less than Black Houstonians.
The Data Center selected the “aspirational” cities as points of comparison, pointing out commonalities between New Orleans and the other metro areas, such as economy and region.
The report also highlights that increasing incomes for Black workers would have a positive impact on the city’s economy as a whole. For instance, if the per capita income of Black residents in metro New Orleans matched that of metro Atlanta’s Black population, the boost in Black income would lead to an estimated increase of nearly $5 billion to the annual gross domestic product of metro New Orleans.
Not only would growing Black income help close a systemic wage gap between Black and white New Orleanians, but such an effort would also “eliminate disparities across health, education, incarceration and employment opportunities,” the researchers wrote.
The report notes that racial income inequality between Black and white New Orleanians has widened in recent years. The share of white households in the city earning more than $133,572 — the top national income quintile — expanded from 25% in 2000 to 32% in 2021. During that time, the percentage of Black households in New Orleans earning less than $26,904 — the lowest income quintile — grew from 42% to 46%.
According to Lamar Gardere, the Data Center’s executive director, New Orleans’ unique racial history played a major role in creating those wealth discrepancies. Mass incarceration, a lack of job opportunities, a low minimum wage and barriers to well-paying jobs are also central factors contributing to the city’s racial wage gap, Gardere said.
“The problems that we see in New Orleans are ones that are very much entrenched,” Gardere said. “And therefore, the way that we’ve created certain systems that we depend on … those systems are not operating to produce good outcomes for Black people.”
Possible solutions range from increasing the minimum wage and diversifying the economy to investing in education and removing barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated adults, the report suggests. Of these, Gardere said that ensuring that Black New Orleanians earn a liveable wage would yield the most immediate and effective outcome.
The brief cited a 2019 poll conducted by researchers at Louisiana State University that found 81% of Louisianians surveyed expressed support for increasing the minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.50.
“It has an immediate effect in terms of putting more money in the hands of people that absolutely [need] it,” Gardere said. “It also helps to reverse the decades-long trend of growing income inequality, which is something that transcends race in many ways.”
The nearby Southern states of Arkansas and Florida have recently increased their minimum wage. However, legislative attempts to do so in Louisiana have failed. The state also prohibits local governments from establishing their own minimum wages.
“We live in a state and a community that is still in the claws of racism and prejudice, and it has led us to over a period of time to put in laws and policies that make it easier for one group of folks to advance forward and for others to struggle,” said Tyronne Walker of the Urban League of Louisiana. “And the thing that keeps us here is the reluctance of people that we elect throughout the state to prioritize the advancement and well being of working class people all throughout the state.”
The Urban League of Louisiana is organizing an initiative to help close the racial wealth gap for Black and Hispanic residents of the greater New Orleans region. The group also backs raising the minimum wage as the most viable solution to the problem, according to Walker.
Gardere remains confident that New Orleans can improve the living quality of the city’s most vulnerable groups, he said.
“We always use the ingredients that we have to make wonderful things that folks around the world have loved,” Gardere said. “We have very unique people with a unique culture with a lot to offer if we just [leverage] the set of ingredients here again to put together something great.”
Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:
Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.