The Wall Street Journal’s Bill Galston has an explanation of what went wrong in Baltimore. It’s a familiar one. The loss of manufacturing jobs led to citywide decline.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Charm City was a thriving economic and financial center. Young people with high-school educations or less found good manufacturing jobs—at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrow Point mill and the General Motors plant, among many others. In 1960 the Port of Baltimore—another major source of good working-class jobs—ranked second in the country.
Then everything changed. By 1995 Baltimore had lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, the steel and auto factories are closed, the port has fallen to 11th place and manufacturing accounts for only 7% of Baltimore’s employment. People with a high-school education or less find jobs in lower-wage service occupations or fall prey to long-term unemployment. Median household income stands at $41,400, 44% lower than the state average. Twenty-four percent of Baltimore’s population lives below the poverty level, compared with 10% for Maryland. Since 1950, Baltimore’s population has fallen by 35%.
The situation in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood—the epicenter of recent protests—is far worse. According to a recent analysis by ThinkProgress, 52% of the neighborhood’s inhabitants age 16 to 64 are out of work, and the unemployment rate is twice that of the city as a whole. At $24,000, the neighborhood’s median household income is lower than the federal poverty line for a family of four—and fully 54% below the national median. Thirty-three percent of Sandtown-Winchester’s homes stand vacant and decaying, despite a $130 million investment spearheaded in the 1990s by developer James Rouse and Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s first African-American mayor.
In Baltimore as in Port Clinton, no effective substitute for the industrial-era economy has emerged. In both cities a tangle of social pathologies is the consequence—not cause—of vanishing opportunity. And when a community’s economic foundation crumbles, social programs—however intensive and well-intentioned—cannot fill the gap.
But consider this report prepared with the aid of the Abell Foundation. As the report makes clear, Baltimore has been welcoming thousands of immigrants in recent years, and they are doing very well.
As of 2011, more than 45,000 foreign-born immigrants called Baltimore home. The majority of New Americans, more than 75%, have arrived since 1990. 52% of the foreign-born population has arrived since 2000.6 The largest group came from Latin American countries, including substantial populations from Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and growing numbers from South America. While the Hispanic community is spread throughout many neighborhoods in the city, they are heavily clustered east of downtown around Patterson Park and Highlandtown.7 The city also has more than 10,000 immigrants from Asia, with significant populations from China, Korea, India, and the Philippines . . .
Foreign-born workers earned approximately $1 billion in wages in 2011, with a median household income of $40,796. Immigrants held more than 27,000 jobs; with unemployment rates nearly two full points below the general population – 6% vs. 7.9%. Immigrants owned more than 7,500 homes in the city and rented another 11,700. Additionally, 39% of immigrants hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared with only 25% of the general population, substantially contributing to Baltimore’s knowledge-base, crucial to 21st century economic growth.
Before concluding that the loss of manufacturing jobs is the explanation of the problem, we must explain why immigrants, many of them black and Hispanic, do so much better.