It is no coincidence that today, on the 8th anniversary of Katrina, that there is a nation-wide strike called by fast-food workers in several major cities, and that New Orleans is not one of them. Instead, workers in New Orleans resist their exploitation in more subtle ways, hoping to hold on to their jobs in a city where:
Nearly half of the African American men in the city are not working according to the GNOCDC. Since 2004, the city’s job base has declined 29 percent. Fifty three percent of African American men in the New Orleans area are employed now. African American households in the metro New Orleans area earned 50 percent less than white households, compared to the national percentage of 40 percent.
Jobs continue to shift out from New Orleans to suburbs. In 2004, New Orleans provided 42% of metro or 247,000 jobs, now that number has dropped to 173,000 and the percentage has dropped to 34%.
Low paid tourism jobs, averaging a low $32,000 a year, continue to be the largest sector of work in New Orleans. But even this low average can be misleading as the hourly average for food preparation and serving jobs in the area is just over $10.00 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Median earnings for full-time male African American New Orleans workers are going down and are now at $31,018; for white male workers they are going up and are now at $60,075. Whites have experienced an 8 percent increase in middle and upper income households while African Americans have suffered a 4 percent decline. Only 5 percent of black households were in the top income class (over $102,000) while 29 percent of white households were.
In my experience, if you don’t have anyone to vouch for you, take you under their wing, or promote and advocate for you professionally, you can forget about finding meaningful, productive, and well-paid work in New Orleans. As a freelancer who enjoys a positive relationship with many in my immediate and extended networks, I have found it difficult to break the glass ceiling as a woman, as a Black person, and as a young professional. There is still a pervasive mindset that resists any change to the present status quo of entrenched hierarchies; it has been my institutional affiliation with Duke University, my northern accent and my academic credentials which have worked most favorably for me. I shudder to think about the limited opportunities available to men and women who do not already have access to such forms of cultural capital. The restaurant and hospitality industries offer the most promising prospects with their constant need for chamber maids, fry cooks, dishwashers, and clerks. The casinos and hotel chains which comprise the majority of the hospitality industry are not friendly to union organizing, or even informal collective bargaining; needless to say, neither are the fast-food franchises and restauranteurs.
— fari nzinga