collected at the reduced, Census 2000 Supplementary Survey level; GNOCDC used the 2000 census long-form sample data as the basis for comparison with 2006 and 2007 ACS data. Later, in response to a question, Plyer noted that use of the ACS data was not struggle-free because they rely on the Census Bureau’s population estimates breakdowns to weight the sample responses; if those estimates are off—as might reasonably happen in an area undergoing drastic population shifts—then the ACS estimates might be problematic. Plyer answered that this was a problem that GNOCDC and the Census Bureau struggled with; there is a mechanism for localities to challenge the Bureau’s population estimates if they can submit alternative data and arguments, and Orleans, Parish had its 2007 population estimates revised upward after GNOCDC and local officials argued that the Census Bureau estimate seemed low.
ACS data on economic conditions have proven particularly useful in studying the rebuilding area in recent years because they are actually responding to multiple shocks. Post-Katrina, the number of people in poverty in New Orleans dropped significantly because, as Plyer said, “those folks had a hard time returning.” But then the poverty rate ticked upward with the national recession. On related lines, GNOCDC began partnering with the Urban Institute to produce a series of housing reports, examining trends in greater New Orleans (principally using ACS numbers) and comparing them with other cities or the nation as a whole. These analyses document noticeably higher housing costs in Orleans Parish, post-Katrina and regardless of whether the housing is rented or owned/mortgaged. They also show that, in 2010, about 35 percent of New Orleans homeowners are housing-cost-burdened, in that they pay at least 30 percent of their pre-tax income on housing—a figure greater than the national average (but less than levels in cities like Las Vegas and New York). Similarly, GNOCDC has partnered with researchers from the Brookings Institution on a major project to track New Orleans’ recovery and to put it into long-term perspective: comparisons with on the order of 30 years of trend data.
Plyer acknowledged that other sources can provide specific glimpses—for instance, Louisiana Department of Education data, compiled from local districts, were the source of one displayed graph tracking public school enrollment before and after Katrina. And, arguably, other sources might provide more detail (for instance, wage data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis). But she emphasized that, “to look at community well-being, we really needed the ACS.” She said the ACS was pivotal in answering the myriad questions that came into GNOCDC, and without it all of those requesters—“the business sector, the legal community, policymakers, emergency preparedness folks, public health, nonprofits, and the media”—“really would have been flying blind for five years.”12 When disasters strike, “everything is uncertain”—and uncertainty in informa-
12In mentioning the media, Plyer endorsed Terpstra’s comments about serving an interpretive role for media outlets; many of the reporters “definitely count on us” at GNOCDC because they