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Baltimore's economy then and now
According to Think Progress' Bryce Covert, there's an economic trifecta high unemployment, low incomes, and widespread foreclosure that has pushed many Baltimoreans into desperation. - photo by JJ Feinauer
Just over 30 percent of families that live in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland live in poverty, according to a 2011 report by the Baltimore City Health Department.

In many ways, Sandtown-Winchester has taken on the role of ground zero for the current unrest in Baltimore. It's the neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up. And the arrest and subsequent death of Gray acted as a catalyst for citizens of the larger Baltimore area to protest what they believe to be a history of injustices at the hands of local police officers.

While the discord in Baltimore has stirred once again a national conversation about police tactics in black neighborhoods and how the media handles political protests, there's another issue that's emerged in the wake of both Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri: Poverty.

Many are arguing that the economic conditions of Sandtown-Winchester provide vital context to the current protests, and that Baltimore's widening inequality cannot be separated from the bursts of political outrage in recent days.

According to Think Progress' Bryce Covert, there's an economic trifecta high unemployment, low incomes, and widespread foreclosure that has pushed many Baltimoreans into desperation.

It hasn't always been that way, though. According to CNBC's John W. Schoen, Baltimore's economy has been on the decline since the middle of the twentieth century a decline that has been hard for long-term residents of the inner-city.

"You had good-paying jobs in manufacturing that offered tremendous opportunities for African-Americans in the '50s and '60s and those began to dry up in the '70s and more rapidly in the '80s," Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told CNBC. "So the avenues to a secure middle-class life have really been cut off."

There's also an education gap. According to the BCHD report, only 6.2 percent of Sandtown-Winchester residents have a bachelor's degree or more. But the city of Baltimore as a whole is much closer to the national average, with about one fourth of its residents attaining a college degree.

Because of this, many in the media have used Charles Dickens-inspired analogies to depict two separate Baltimores.

In the more than three decades I have called this city home, Baltimore has been a combustible mix of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, The Washington Posts Michael A. Fletcher wrote at Wonkblog, adding that the hopeless Baltimore stands uncomfortably juxtaposed against rich history, friendly people, venerable institutions and pockets of old-money influence.

In fact, a study released last year by Johns Hopkins University researchers looked at this very thing. The researchers tracked 790 Baltimore schoolchildren over the course of 30 years, finding that poverty does indeed beget more poverty, creating a frustrating cycle that leaves many people feeling helpless.

We like to think we have equal opportunity, it sounds good, Karl Alexander, head researcher on the project told our own Lane Anderson. That's the country we would like to be. But we fall short of that.

These gaps in education and economic mobility make cities like Baltimore and Ferguson vulnerable to outbursts of protests and, occasionally, riotous behavior, according to a study by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.

"Persistent poverty can create the grounds for increased social discontent," the study concluded. And if the poverty remains unaddressed, it will often lead those who suffer to "become fighters as a form of coping with poverty itself."

There have been attempts at dealing with the poverty in Grays neighborhood. According to Salons Joan Walsh, there was a major push at reviving Sandtown-Winchester about 20 years ago, but it didnt pan out.

The work was supposed to help make sure none of this nightmare Freddie Grays awful death at the hands of police; the terrible rioting thats ensued ever happened. But obviously it didnt, Walsh, who reported on the project at the time, remembered.

Walsh credits two main factors for keeping what she called an ambitious community building initiative from having a lasting impact: Ignoring the underlying problem of inner city job flight and the increasing tension between the black community and local police tactics.

Thats not to say that the Sandtown-Winchester work failed, Walsh wrote. At least 1,000 new housing units were built, and another thousand renovated. But, she conceded, recent events prove it certainly cant be counted as a success, either.
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