The cause-and-effect (and effect, and effect) of climate change is abundantly apparent in Louisiana’s Saint John the Baptist Parish. Sandwiched between the western edge of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi, just upstream from New Orleans, the parish is home to oil refineries and other petrochemical factories.
As a result of the pollution they cause, the low-lying county is not only subjected to worse and worse floods, but there are also sky-high cancer rates in the majority-Black community, which is part of Louisiana’s infamous Cancer Alley.
The supposed upside for Black residents living alongside all this industrial infrastructure should come in the form of good oil-industry jobs, but new research has found that, even in a community like Saint John the Baptist, where more than 60% of residents are Black, those refinery jobs are disproportionately going to white workers.
“If one group gets all the pollution and another group gets all the jobs, it’s not really a trade-off anymore,” Kimberly Terrell, a staff scientist at Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic who worked on the research, told Floodlight News last week. (The on-going research has not yet been published, and early data was shared exclusively with Floodlight.)
Just 28% of manufacturing jobs in Saint John the Baptist Parish are held by people of color, who comprise nearly 70% of working-age people in the county. For higher-paying jobs things are even more lopsided: non-white people hold just 19% of management positions and other senior roles.
Similar disparities were found in other Cancer Alley parishes: in East Baton Rouge, the working-age population is 55% non-white (researchers looked at Black people and other minority groups too), but people of color have just 28% of manufacturing jobs, and in West Baton Rouge the disparity is 42% to 24%. In Iberville parish, 51% of the working-age population is non-white, but only 24% of manufacturing jobs are held by people of color.
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The Tulane researches have focused mostly on Louisiana thus far, but the pattern does exist along Texas’s gulf coast too, which also home to both predominantly Black communities and heavy industry. In Jefferson County, 59% of residents are nonwhite, but hold only 28% of manufacturing jobs.
The disparities are even more striking when you consider that the majority of factory jobs in the U.S. will be held by minorities as soon as 2029.
Meanwhile, for Black folks in St. John the Baptist Parish, and so many other places nationwide, the story doesn’t have a happy ending: less likely to get hired, more likely to get cancer.