Baltimore: A City Near You (Committing Sociology)

The Justice Policy Institute (PDF) has put together some really interesting facts on Baltimore from Census data. While the facts are shocking to most (or at least should be), the fact not mentioned is that Baltimore is just like the east side of Buffalo, the west side of Cleveland, the south side of Chicago, and pretty much all of Detroit (at this point). Baltimore is not unique; it’s just gotten most of the attention, and deservedly so.

Some of the facts from the JPI report?

  • 51.8% Unemployment
  • 25% receiving welfare benefits
  • 60.7% High school drop out rate
  •  Youth mortality rate: 19 per 1000 (U.S. average is 5.9 according to the CDC)
  • Life expectancy: 68.8 years (U.S. average is 78.8 years according to the CDC)

Both Sociologists and Economists know that things like infant mortality and life expectancy is directly related to socioeconomic status (education, occupation and income; also known in Weberian terms as class, status, and power).

Yet Baltimore, along with most northeastern cities continue to red line (discriminate against classes or races of people through economic means), despite Jim Crow allegedly being graveyard-dead. Take a look at the census tracts for Baltimore on where African-Americans live, and say that there isn’t any redlining going on:

BaltimoreCharts1_3To have an idea of how poverty in America measures up, let’s assume that all income in America is distributed evenly. We all know it’s not, but let’s assume that by some magic, we as a society have achieved perfect income equality. This is where people at the federal poverty line would match up to the median income:


The fact is that Baltimore is just like any other city because of a culture of policy that marginalizes and stigmatizes its poor, and does so based on class and race. It’s true that most of the people receiving SNAP in America are white. But we’ve managed to marginalize them too. The fact is that people will die younger, crime will be higher, and people will be less educated.

So how much will the people take? How long will people tolerate being herded like cattle (redlining), being told what to do, what to eat, how to live, given no means to do it, and then be told that they’re failures when they can’t obey the commands of the powerful?

I’m not a fan of rioting. There is a distinct difference between a “riot” and a “revolution.” A revolution has social organization, even if it’s rudimentary (such as the Occupy movement). However, crime, as in rioting, is an inherently social phenomena controlled by social forces. It’s totally understandable how the rioting started. And it should come as no surprise if these things pop up in a city near you. That’s the truly scary part.

A side note: “Committing Sociology” is a term that Stephen Harper, (now) Prime Minister of Canada likes to use when people question his social and crime policy. Committing Sociology in Canada is the equivalent of a circle-jerk for Mr. Harper, so it’s meant as a stigmatizing comment.

There is no question however, that in order to understand the economics of the Baltimore riots, you have to commit sociology. And in order to commit sociology, you have to engage in economics. In both cases, one has to look at class, status, power, and it’s relationship with those that don’t have it – including race. This is the only problem solving approach there is. It’s difficult, but doable. Yet there are too many people in power who don’t want to do the difficult.

This entry was posted in Economics, Health, Political Economy, Politics, Poverty, Public Policy, Race, Socioeconomics. Bookmark the permalink.

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