James Elliott and Jeremy Pais “Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human responses to disaster”

James Elliott and Jeremy Pais look at the effects of Hurricane Katrina and whether the effects were different between race and class groups. Building off of research following Hurricane Andrew, their main goal was to investigate the human response to this disaster as it relates to race and class differences. Elliott and Pais found that residents of  “the Gulf South region” differed on how they responded to Hurricane Katrina and responses seem to be influenced by race and class stratification, rather than only one. The long standing sociological debate, is it race or class that influences social inequalities. I think I could argue the side that class trumps race. It is logical to presume that if people are financially more secure they can handle disaster such as Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina more so than the lower class with limited funds.


Race classification is an important factor primarily because blacks are most vulnerable, usually the lowest class, therefore with limited economic resources to evacuate. Not to discount racism, as it does play factor but class is purported by these authors to have played a bigger part in the demise of New Orleanians. Although poor white people were also adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina, Elliott and Pais stated that their situation was less obvious because of difficulty accessing other devastated areas, such as St. Bernard Parrish, as well as a no fly zone above. This gave the appearance that white people did not suffer as a result.  Elliott and Pais note that class and race are both very important defining how people react in certain situations but in times of crisis racial differences expand while class differences diminish.

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Using data from a post-storm Gallup poll and 2000 census data, Elliot and Pais found that income and race together were factors in determining whether residents evacuated or not and how quickly they recovered following yhe storm. Although many residents evacuated prior to Hurricane Katrina, black people were more than 2.5 times more likely to evacuate after the storm, rather than before.They also found that those residents with a family income of $40,000-$50,000 were almost twice as likely to evacuate New Orleans before the storm and three times as likely to evacuate at all, than those with incomes of $10,000-$20,000; however the people in the lower income bracket were more likely to leave after the storm. The researchers found that low-income blacks were most likely to stay in the city for the duration. Although media outlets reported several reasons why residents stayed (including comically enough, access to government checks), in reviewing data from the post-storm Gallup poll, Elliott and Pais found that many residents (49%) reported the reason for not evacuating early was because they didn’t think the storm would be that bad while 21% said they couldn’t evacuate because they had no transportation. This suggests that income levels predict which residents were able to leave prior to or during the storm.

I was surprised to read that Elliott and Pais stated those New Orleanians who really need assistance in rebuilding were less affluent homeowners. Even in homeownership groups, those with lower incomes were not able to recover as quickly. More affluent homeowners were able to relocate and rebuild while the other group was not able to easily detach from their home mortgages. I do not think focusing on this group is meant to diminish the plight of the people who lost their jobs (the majority of whom were black residents) and who still are living elsewhere in temporary housing.  I understand their statement to mean that these folks are the anchors in the devastated communities and in order for the community to rebuild, they need to get these folks back in town regenerate it. I think in terms of rebuilding and generating economic growth, resources that homeowners bring to their community are needed to start the rebuild.

One thought on “James Elliott and Jeremy Pais “Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human responses to disaster”

  • December 5, 2015 at 12:51 pm


    Good job!

    Culture was also discussed when viewing whom victims relied upon for support; the authors not that blacks tend to rely upon God and religion while whites relied on their peer network (friends and family) in the aftermath of the hurricane. The Gallup Polls continue to show that the black community in American is the most religious of any other group. Social networks are impacted by resources (income and location). Those living in low income areas don’t necessarily have a large group of friends or family that can financially assist them during troubled times for which the hurricane displayed this lack of resources available to some. Higher income people were able to rely on the social networks for assistance after the hurricane while low income people did not have that support system in place. Higher income people could move in with friends until their homes were completed (cleaned up and/or remodeled) while lower income people had to depend on FEMA, which did not respond as quickly as many thought they should have.
    Also, those in the surrounding areas, outside of New Orleans viewed the hurricane as a natural disaster while those in the city viewed it as a technical issue due to the levees breaking.

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