Report: People of color less able to escape hurricanes & poverty

Press Release – January 10, 2006
Contact: Betsy Leondar-Wright, (617) 423-2148 x113

New Report: Stalling the Dream
People of color less likely to own cars,
less able to escape hurricanes & poverty

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE: Stalling the Dream (PDF, 1.8 Mb)

"Transportation equity is needed to prevent more tragedies like Katrina, or the quiet day-to-day tragedy of unnecessary poverty." – Stalling the Dream

"There are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."
– Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963

A new report considers one factor in the shocking racial disparities revealed by Hurricane Katrina: car ownership.

The report finds that people of color are considerably more likely to be left behind in a natural disaster, since fewer of them own cars compared to whites. In addition, lower rates of car ownership put them at an economic disadvantage.

The report finds that:

  • Only 7% of white households, but 24% of black households and 17% of Latino (Hispanic) households owned no vehicle in 2000.
  • In all 11 major cities that have had five or more hurricanes in the last 100 years (Houston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Tampa, New York City, Providence, Boston, and New Orleans), people without cars are disproportionately people of color.
  • In the case of a mandatory evacuation order during a disaster, 33% of Latinos, 27% of African Americans, and 23% of whites say that lack of transportation would be an obstacle preventing them from evacuating, according to the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
  • Evacuation planning tends to focus on traffic management for those with cars and on institutionalized people, not on non-institutionalized people without vehicles. New Orleans had only one-quarter the number of buses that would have been needed to evacuate all carless residents.
  • In the counties affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, only 7% of white households have no car, compared with 24% of black, 12% of Native American and 14% of Latino households.
  • The stereotype that black people own expensive cars is inaccurate. In fact, their median car value is half (or less) of whites, according to the Federal Reserve.
  • Eleven percent of African-American families and 21 percent of Latino families have missed out on medical care because of transportation issues, compared to only 2 percent of white families, according to the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
  • The median net worth of white families increased about 6% after inflation from 2001 to 2004, to $136,000, while the black median stayed unchanged at $20,000, according to the Federal Reserve.
  • Transportation is the second biggest expense for American households, after housing, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

Overall, there is a correlation between vehicle ownership and economic prosperity. Cars give access to wider choices of jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities and healthcare. Many small businesses require a vehicle, such as gardening and catering.

The report concludes that car ownership is a vital part of the American Dream. However, the solution is not simply to provide all residents with their own cars. The report suggests improvements in public transportation and disaster planning, as well as narrowing the racial wealth divide to enable more car purchases.

One of the report's co-authors, Emma Dixon, went without electricity in her Louisiana home for a week after Hurricane Katrina. The others, Meizhu Lui and Betsy Leondar-Wright, are also co-authors of the forthcoming book The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US Racial Wealth Divide (New Press, 2006). All work for United for a Fair Economy.

Stalling the Dream is the third annual Martin Luther King Day report from United for a Fair Economy, following State of the Dream 2004 and 2005.

United for a Fair Economy is a national non-partisan, non-profit organization that raises awareness of the dangers of growing economic inequality.