When You are Forced to Do Something You Don’t Want to Do–New-Orleans Style

When You are Forced to Do Something You Don’t Want to Do–New-Orleans Style

At my mother-in-law’s cottage I spent many hours doing one of my favorite things in the world–reading old New Yorkers. And while there, I read one article called Starting Over by Malcolm Gladwell which I found truly inspirational, about the fate of the New Orleans evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 1995.

I found this article so hope-bolstering because I think all of us have been in situations when we, like the Katrina evacuees, were forced to do something we didn’t want to do.

You got fired from a dream job.
Your daughter wasn’t accepted into her top-choice.
Your husband got relocated and you were forced to move across the country from a community you loved.
You got pregnant when your baby was only 2 months old.
Your landlord decided, after a decade of renting, that he’s going to sell your beloved home.

In August of 2015, severe flooding drove hundreds of thousands of residents of New Orleans from their homes. The hardest hit areas were some of the most violent and desperately poor parts of inner city New Orleans. At the time, on a list of 100 major US cities, New Orleans ranked 99 (Right above Fayettesville, North Carolina), meaning it was the next to last worst place in the United States for a poor person to live, with next to zero opportunity for children to break out of the cycle of poverty and the plagues that come with it–drug abuse, crime, teenage pregnancy, etc. etc.

A decade later, close to 100,000 people, have never returned to New Orleans.

And in recent years, in an attempt to find out what happened to those evacuees, sociologist Corina Graif, tracked down seven hundred women displaced by Katrina—most of them lower-income and black.

Article author Malcolm Gladwell explains Graif’s findings:

“By virtually every measure, their new neighborhoods were better than the ones they had left behind in New Orleans. 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.

“The women weren’t going to Fayetteville but, rather, to places like Houston. ‘For low-income people in the South, Houston is a pretty darn great place,’ [economist Nathaniel] Hendren said…The odds of going from the bottom to the top [socioeconomically] in Houston are 9.3 per cent, which puts it fifteenth out of the top fifty U.S. metro areas.

“’I think that what’s happening is that a whole new world is opening up to them,’ Graif said. ‘If these people hadn’t moved out of [New Orleans], they would have done the regular move—cycling from one disadvantaged area to another. The fact that they were all of a sudden thrown out of that whirlpool gives them a chance to rethink what they do. It gives them a new option—a new metro area has more neighborhoods in better shape.’

An opportunity, like every time we are forced to do something we don’t want to do, to ride the wave of change to a better life.


  1. Humph. This is kind of what our family is going through now. Yes, upheaval is Hashems way of saying, time for some great uphill changes, my child.

    • good luck, when I’m going through challenges I tell myself “if the journey is hard, it’s a sign I’m going up.” 🙂

  2. It’s so hard, for me, to see the higher ground and light that awaits in the midst of so much uncertainty. Intellectually I get it and these statistics are clear as are your analogies, Jenny, so I’ll try to keep this in mind and ride the waves and hope for a better life. Thank you for sharing your positivity.

  3. Thank you Chana Jenny, it’s a great line

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