The least we can do.

A letter to the editor of The Capital from a reader on the subject of the reimbursement of Anne Arundel County by Baltimore for the costs incurred by the county in responding to last April’s riots referred to Baltimore in an angry and disparaging tone.  [“Reimbursement,” The Capital, January 16, 2016.]  The attitude reflected is a common one and serves an important psychological purpose for the person holding the attitude:  Blaming the citizens of the city and their leaders for the pattern of violence in the city makes it easier for the person to disclaim any personal responsibility to try to help.  It also ignores the fact that we share responsibility, as a society, for creating conditions in Baltimore that make it increasingly more difficult for its residents to escape the cycles of poverty and violence.   The city has become a poverty trap from which escape is harder than ever for reasons that are beyond the control of the people who live there.

Coincident with America’s industrial revolution was a population shift from farms to cities.  The rural poor became the urban poor, but cities like Baltimore did reasonably well as long as there were ample manufacturing and other jobs for low and non-skilled workers in or near the city and trolleys and buses to get the workers to those jobs.  Those jobs are gone, and the unemployment rate in some of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods exceeds 50%.  An inferior educational system further reduces opportunity.  Unemployment and grinding poverty do not relieve fathers of their responsibilities to their children or excuse criminal behavior but it is foolish to believe that the absence of any realistic hope of finding a decent job is not going to have a negative effect.

Nearly a quarter of the people in Maryland living below the poverty line live in Baltimore.  There is no greater economic disparity between a state and its largest city in the United States.    By almost all measures Maryland is the most affluent state and Baltimore is one of the poorest cities in the country.  In Maryland only the citizens of Montgomery and Howard Counties are wealthier than the citizens of Anne Arundel County.  Baltimore is going to need plenty of help to turn things around.  Absorbing the costs of helping the city restore order last April is the least that the citizens of Anne Arundel County can do.

January 16, 2016

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