As you know, at Baltimore Rising we believe that the most significant problem we have here in Baltimore is that our economy is too small. It just isn’t large and strong enough to provide jobs for all our residents – jobs that pay enough for our families to take good care of themselves and have something leftover at the end of the month. And our economy isn’t producing enough property and income tax revenue for our city government to provide the essential services we need.
In fact, we believe that our anemic economy is the root cause of the crime and other social ills that plague our city.
We’re a city in crisis, but we can fix this. Not by cutting programs – including public employee and retiree compensation and benefits. Not by selling off the city’s income-producing assets. Not by postponing the maintenance and repair of our city’s infrastructure. That’s what our city government keeps doing, not just the current administration, but the one before that and the one before that.
Unfortunately, you can only cut back so far. At some point, we need to realize that we’re going to have to grow our way out of this mess. The fact is, very extensive job creation through aggressive, but nonetheless responsible development and growth, is the only real, enduring solution.
Think about it. Round numbers, Baltimore has a population of 620,000 people. It used to be 950,000, but the manufacturing sector that employed so many of us collapsed and many of those workers had to find jobs elsewhere. And thousands of others who could afford to move, got up and relocated to the suburbs.
Over 100,000 people commute into Baltimore every weekday and go home at night. All those commuters and their families could live here, but they choose not to because the surrounding counties are better places to raise and educate their children.
When all those people moved out, they left one third of the city vacant. They took their property tax and income tax revenues with them. And they stopped spending money in the city, so lots of businesses closed and all those jobs were lost too.
Many of them left because most of the city’s manufacturing employers either moved out or shut down, so there were no more of those jobs.
Today, over 24,000 of our people are unemployed that we know about. Tens of thousands more are under-employed, meaning that they are making less than their skills and potential would otherwise justify. 35% of the city’s children are in families making less than the poverty level. For a family of four, the “poverty level” is $24,250 per year “gross.” That’s pre-tax, so well less than $2000 per month, net. Less than $500 per month, $125 per week per person for rent, food, healthcare, everything.
In some neighborhoods, as many as half the families are living below the poverty level. Honestly, it’s a tribute to the strength and civility of these good families, Black and White, that we’re not in a much bigger mess than we are.
Take a look at the life expectancy numbers in the box on the left. We’re not arguing that everyone needs to make a great salary and live in a large, wonderful home. Of course not. What concerns us is that the city’s economy is so weak that a great number of our families make so little money, if any, that it’s cutting years – as many as 20 years – off their lives. What a loss to them personally, but also to a society who will never benefit from the full extent of what these children and adults might have contributed to the betterment of all our lives. Not to mention the costs we all incur as we try, against the odds, to help those among us who are struggling. Needless to say, it is vastly less expensive for a society to care for its successful families than to deal with the consequences of the long-term, continuing recession that is the incurable blight in so many of our neighborhoods.
In a recent study of income mobility conducted by two Harvard Economists, the city of Baltimore ranked 15th out of 2478 counties nationwide with respect to the ability of children to escape from poverty. That’s 15th from the bottom. In only 14 of 2478 counties, is it harder for a child to escape from poverty than in the City of Baltimore.
Growing up in our city isn’t the American dream. “American nightmare” is more like it. Is it so surprising that so many of our city’s families have given up? Can any of us who are more fortunate even imagine what it’s like to live without the expectation, the confidence that there is nothing we cannot do and that “Success” is an equal opportunity employer?
At some point we – all of us regardless of where we live, how much we make and what we look like – have got to say, “Enough is enough. Time to fix this, once and for all. Time to rebuild our economy and for this city to get back up on its feet.”
So how do we do this? How do we produce enough jobs to save our city? And do it relatively soon, in just a few years instead of in a few generations? How do we generate the property and income taxes we need to pay for essential services, but without increasing our tax rates and maybe even reducing them?
We do this by making the following happen, all at once…
- Implement a far superior system that contains contact information and work profiles for every person in the city who is un- or under-employed and that provides a meaningful financial incentive for every employer in the region to hire from that database.
Not incidentally, this is the database of prospective employees which we need to attract new employers to the city.
- Make sure that every un- or under-employed person who can obtain a job has affordable transportation to get there. Modes of transportation include greatly improved bus service, of course, but also new car loan guarantees to enable selected families without cars to afford one – to get to and back from their jobs in the suburbs.
- Provide free, short-duration remedial education for un- and under-employed people who have graduated high school without the verbal and written communication skills to obtain employment consistent with their inherent capabilities.
- Take control of Baltimore City Community College back from the state and turn it into the essential, effective institution our un- and under-employed need to obtain skilled jobs and advance their careers.
We need more, short-term programs that prepare graduates for specific jobs we help them identify in advance. And we need dramatically higher graduation rates.
- Encourage the passing of expungement and pardon laws that remove arrest records when there was no conviction and give qualified people who have committed non-violent crimes some time ago the second chance they deserve. This new legislation will remove a major barrier to employment for many of our residents.
- Encourage the passing of land banking and other laws that accelerate and facilitate the takeover and productive utilization of vacant and abandoned property.
- Use low cost refurbished housing and mortgage financing to encourage commuters to move to the city where we can capture their property and income taxes and consumer expenditures.
- Encourage the passing of new legislation that will improve the mandates for hiring our unemployed for all government contracts and for major, publically subsidized, private sector development projects.
- Use our vast inventory of vacant and abandoned land to entice employers from outside the city to move here – to make them offers that are too good to refuse.
- Through a combination of very low cost financing, subsidized labor costs and free land, we’re going to make Baltimore the destination of choice for American and foreign companies interested in opening production facilities in low cost regions of the United States.
- Institute a “negative income tax” that continues income subsidies for extended periods after the unemployed first find work and until they’re making enough to be self-sufficient.
- Refocus the use of TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) and other Baltimore Development Corporation programs to support labor intensive and tax revenue-producing development in the most disadvantaged communities of the city.
- Remove inefficiency and waste from our city government and then apply the money we save to cover neglected services and help rebuild the city’s economy.
- Admit that we’re a city in crisis and make job creation, reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty our city government’s highest priority.
Breathtaking, isn’t it? And yes, you have every right to be more than a little skeptical. But what we’ve listed here is doable. All it takes is the creativity, vision and will that we know are in the hearts and souls of our people. We – not just Baltimore Rising, but all of us – will put this City to work. We’ll do it because our city is in a fight for its life. We’ll do it because we don’t have any choice. And we’ll do it because we can.
Long story short, we’ll create jobs – large numbers of jobs – by:
- Putting people looking for work together with openings for jobs they can do.
- Using remedial, vocational, community college education and subsidized on-the-job training to give people the skills they need to obtain employment and better, higher paying jobs.
- Making sure people can get to work, not just in their neighborhoods, but across the city and throughout the surrounding counties.
- Enticing employers from outside the area to move here and hire our unemployed.
And we’ll regenerate our property tax and income tax revenues by:
- Putting our people to work in well-paying jobs so that they become property tax and income tax payers whose consumer expenditures will have a real impact on local business.
- Convincing commuters to move back to the city.
- Making sure the employees of companies that locate here move to the city where we can capture their property and income taxes and where they will spend the wages and salaries they earn.
Our initiatives will educate and stimulate voter interest in the economy and in the specific jobs-related solutions we’ve just talked about. The result will be a far more business-friendly city government. And we’ll use our own resources to encourage the private sector – with or without a cooperative city government – to build a new, dynamic, all-inclusive Baltimore economy that reinvigorates our confidence, our spirit and sense of pride in what we have and will accomplish.
We will do this, because we, all of us, believe in Baltimore Rising.