Several "posts" ago I wrote about one of the odd yet fascinating aspects of post-Katrina New Orleans: the gender imbalance the storm left behind. It appears that twice as many young, single women with children left New Orleans, for good, as young, single men. Why? Lack of housing and employment for these women were the main reasons I cited, magnified by the fact construction work makes up the bulk of new jobs in New Orleans. Women are not well trained for construction work on average, nor do they have as easy a time being hired for construction as men.
Mark Shriver of Save the Children E-mailed me to make note of one equally important factor: lack of safe, reliable, affordable day care.
Save the Children's mission is to "create safe spaces and emotional support for children," he wrote. In the weeks after the storm, the group set up play areas for kids whose parents were stuck in never-ending lines at disaster relief centers. Let's remember, too, Katrina chewed through just as many buildings housing child care as it did other types of commercial and residential buildings.
Save the Children issued a report last month showing that a fraction of child care available pre-Katrina in New Orleans still exists. The report showed:
- "(Some) 54 percent of neighborhoods in Orleans Parish have lost all licensed child care centers.
- Only 52 of the 266 child care centers licensed and operating before Hurricane Katrina are open. More than half (56 percent) of the closed facilities are expected to remain shuttered.
- "Approximately onethird of the 30 Head Start or Early Head Start programs in the parish before the hurricane are providing services for children.
- Four planning districts in the parish (the French Quarter, New Aurora/English Turn, Lower Ninth Ward, and Venetian Isles) have no open elementary schools."
All of a sudden the reasons for the gender imbalance become clear. Of course women with young children cannot return if they cannot find work, housing, or perhaps most important, day care for their kids. Even if they could find jobs and housing, what are they to do with their young children.Shriver notes that in the days right after the storm, Save the Children staffers saw young women working at fast food restaurants with toddlers at their feet. Let's hope federal funding for the rebuilding effort takes day care needs into account when it doles out reconstruction funds.