Oxy in New Orleans
Solidarity, Not Charity

Do the Math

By the end of 2007 — two years after the levees breached — 1.1 million volunteers had come to New Orleans to work on rebuilding, performing 14 million hours of work (yes, that’s 14 hours each), for a total contribution of $263 million in labor costs. These volunteers likely left the city feeling pretty good about themselves, and many probably continued to contribute to rebuilding through fundraising and other efforts. So let’s do the math.

Let’s assume that by the end of 2010, 2 million volunteers had hopped on planes headed to New Orleans. The typical cost for flight, food, lodging, and transportation runs about $1,000 for a week-long visit. This means that it has cost approximately $2 billion for 2 million volunteers to come to New Orleans to work since 2005.

Of the 5,300 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward pre-Katrina, only 1,200 have been repaired or rebuilt. Given that the average listing price of a house in the L9 is $104,000, $2 billion translates into 19,230 homes. In other words, had volunteers simply stayed home and sent their $1,000 to any of dozens of organizations rebuilding homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, we could have rebuilt this part of the city nearly four times over.

Does volunteering in New Orleans really add up?

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