By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

A tone of triumph and hope characterized a forum of academic, nonprofit and governmental leaders held Monday at the University of New Orleans to mark the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Yet despite the overall positive message, concern about the city’s shrinking black middle and upper class arose throughout the four-hour event, highlighting the fact that, for some, post-Katrina fears of a new New Orleans have been realized.

In the six years since Katrina, the national recession has hit black households harder than white households nationwide.  But in New Orleans, the disparity exceeded the national median with blacks earning incomes in 2009 that were 50 percent of whites, a disparity 11 percentage points larger than the national racial cleavage of 61 percent, according to “The New Orleans Index at Six” released Monday by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.  The statistic drew attention Monday at multiple points as a moderator and members of the crowd asked panelists questions on issues ranging from a restructuring of the school system that resulted in an educational workforce perceived to be whiter, to a national credit crisis that slowed the development of affordable units.

“There is an overall improvement in the city… but when you have blacks earning 50 percent less than whites, that is a problem we as a city can’t ignore,” said moderator Andre Perry, associate director for educational initiatives for Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education.

Over the last decade, whites in the region did better than racial peers across the country with a median income, in 2009, of $57,807, higher than the national 2009 median for whites of $54,671, according to Community Data Center report.

Meanwhile, blacks in New Orleans, like peers nationally, saw incomes fall – from $29,771 in 1999 to $29,100 in 2009, the report said.  The income decline wasn’t restricted to the working class with the share of black households classified as upper-income also dropping, from 7 percent in 1999 to 5 percent in 2009. In that same period, the number of white households in the highest income bracket rose 4 percentage points from 25 percent to 29 percent earning more than $102,227 in 2009, according to the report.