Unique government structure
Louisiana is the only state in the nation divided into parishes rather than counties. After the United States purchased Louisiana from the French, local officials created county lines based on the existing parishes set out by local Roman Catholic churches. The parish designations remained, and the Catholic Church maintains a strong presence in southern Louisiana.
Of Louisiana's 64 parishes, nine of them are in the New Orleans metro area: Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St Tammany, and Tangipahoa.
Retail enterprises - many tourist-related - employ the largest percentage of people in New Orleans proper. Education is the second largest employer in the city, followed by health services.
Oil and gas production companies continue to be major employers. In fact, the oil industry has recently boosted the economy of the entire state. On the whole, however, New Orleans is not a prosperous area. Half of Orleans Parish's population lives below the poverty line.
Relying heavily on tourism, the local economy suffered in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. More devastating was the local damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. With 80 percent of the city under flood waters, and tens of thousands of people driven from their homes, the effects were staggering. Restoration of the city has been an enormous undertaking, and the end result is a city that is quite changed. Periodic updates to the reconstruction effort are available online.
However, the most recent United States census indicates that many residents are returning to the city. New Orleans is the nation's fastest growing city, and the population stands at more than 70 percent of what it was in 2000.
Many new residents - especially those from fast-paced cities - remark on the relaxed attitude of local residents. Some find the slower pace refreshing, while others are frustrated by it. Nearly all would agree, however, that southern hospitality is alive and well.
New Orleans natives are welcoming, tolerant of differences, and enjoy showing newcomers around the City That Care Forgot, as it has often been called.