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Many Katrina Victims Left New Orleans for Good. What Can We Learn from Them?

The New Yorker,

5 min read
5 take-aways
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Social science researchers conclude that making a clean break from dysfunctional neighborhoods can improve people’s prospects.

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A decade ago in 2005, Hurricane Katrina rained death and destruction on New Orleans, disproportionately affecting poor African-American neighborhoods. Forced to flee their homes, many of these residents decided to leave their dysfunctional neighborhoods for good. This exodus set up a rare “natural experiment” for examination: How does where you live determine how you end up in life? In this award-winning essay for The New Yorker, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell reveals how people who make a clean break from dysfunctional environments can improve their chances for upward mobility. getAbstract recommends his essay to social scientists, policy makers, business developers and city planners interested in the connections between social environments and personal outcomes.


Due to a combination of history, geography and meteorology, the areas of New Orleans most devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also happened to be among the most dysfunctional in the United States. These neighborhoods were politically corrupt and desperately poor. When residents, nearly all of them African-American, fled the rising flood waters to take shelter at the Superdome or evacuate to other cities, many never returned. A decade later in 2015, the city has about 80,000 fewer African-American residents.

From one day to the...

About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist and best-selling author of such books as The Tipping Point and Blink. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996.

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