The Roots of Baltimore's Anguish; Economic Decline; Globalization, Technological Change Have Hurt the Least Advantaged People

By Dionne, Ej | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Roots of Baltimore's Anguish; Economic Decline; Globalization, Technological Change Have Hurt the Least Advantaged People


Dionne, Ej, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The violence that has engulfed Baltimore is visible and heartbreaking evidence of a city that has been under siege for decades.

The obvious flashpoints involve race and policing. But since at least the 1970s, the economy's invisible hand has also been diligently stripping tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs from what was once a bustling workshop where steel, cars and planes were made. Baltimore has tried to do its best in a post-industrial economy, but when work disappears, the results can be catastrophic.

Urban riots call forth an avalanche of glibness. Tragedies allow us to ride our hobby horses and to repackage the same arguments we were advancing before the first stone was thrown and the first fire set. So I will stipulate that the violence in Baltimore has multiple causes, beginning with the troubling death of Freddie Gray and a nationwide backlash against police treatment of young African- American men.

And let us celebrate this week's signs of civic vitality as residents mobilized quickly to condemn the violence, take back their streets, and clean up the damage caused by lawbreakers.

But President Obama was right on Tuesday to express impatience with our typical response to these terrible episodes. "Everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual," he said. We tend to ignore urban injustices, he said, except "when a CVS burns" or "when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped."

Yet at a moment when the debate over the president's push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is one of Washington's central battles, Baltimore is Exhibit A for why there is such frustration over how the costs of globalization and technological change have been borne almost entirely by the least advantaged people in our society.

Baltimore and its inner suburbs were once home to the vast manufacturing facilities operated by Bethlehem Steel, General Motors and Martin Marietta, notes Thomas J. Vicino, author of "Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore." In 1970, about a third of the labor force in Baltimore and its first- tier suburbs was employed in manufacturing. By 2000, only 7 percent of city residents had manufacturing jobs, and the losses have continued since. An awareness of this, Vicino says, should shape our understanding of what's happening in the city now. …

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