Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on the benefits that accrued to New Orleans residents who relocated after Katrina is persuasive on first reading. But give it a bit more thought and some of the economic gains he describes start to feel shaky.
Gladwell cites a study of 700 women who left the city and settled elsewhere after the hurricane. Most of them were black and poor:
Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to ‘concentrated disadvantage’ — an index that factors in several measures of poverty — fell by half a standard deviation.
That sounds pretty good. But suppose one of those women has a child who needs day care while the mother works. If she is in Texas, a common destination for New Orleans refugees, the average annual cost of child care is $2,000 to $3,000 more per child than in Louisiana.
Suppose she has two. Or three. The relocation premium that Gladwell and his economists and sociologists tout gets washed away pretty quickly.
In fact the working poor are likely to rely on family and neighbor networks for child care and babysitting. This may be a foreign concept to academic economists and New Yorker writers, but it’s often not such a bad thing – not for the children and not for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends providing the care.