Do You Think The Government Can Fix Poverty? Look At Baltimore

I have written many times (for example here and here) about the spectacular failure of the government's efforts to fix the problem of human poverty by the favored devices of "programs" and handouts.   But it isn't often that the nation's attention gets riveted onto quite such a graphic display of the disaster of our anti-poverty efforts as we have had in the past couple of days from Baltimore.

Baltimore is in that group that I have often referred to as the "basket case cities" -- the not small group of U.S. cities that have thrown wads of cash and hordes of bureaucrats at the poverty problem, only to see poverty worsen while the population of the city declines precipitously and the place basically circles the drain.  The poster children for this phenomenon are Detroit and Cleveland, but they are really just the start.  Chicago and Philadelphia also qualify, even though they both put on good shows in their downtowns.  Another trait that the basket case cities share is voting 80% + for Democrats in their elections.  Could it really be that anyone here thinks that the next round of "programs" and handouts is going to work?

Baltimore easily meets all the criteria to qualify as a "basket case."  By the official decennial census, the population peaked in 1950 at 949,708, and has been in decline ever since.  In 2010 it hit 620,961, down about 35% from the peak.  Maryland is one of the wealthiest states, but Baltimore is one of the poorest cities in the country.  The official Census Bureau "poverty rate" for Baltimore is 23.8%, about 9% above the rate for the rest of the country and 14% above the rate for Maryland as a whole.  Median household income is $41,385, compared to $51,900 for the U.S. as a whole and $73,538 for Maryland (all 2013 data).  The murder rate in Baltimore is 37.4 per 100,000; by comparison, New York's is around 4 per 100,000.  This is not a small difference.  And how do they vote?  To take just one example, in the 2012 presidential election, Obama got over 200,000 votes in the City of Baltimore to Romney's 25,000.

As befits its status as a relatively poor city, Baltimore has long "benefited" -- if you want to use that term -- from more than its pro rata share of the government programs and handouts supposedly designed to cure poverty.  Comparative statistics aren't easily available for every program, but consider just a few.  In the U.S., following the explosion during Obama's presidency, there are now about 46 million recipients of food stamps/SNAP; that's about 14% of the population.  In Baltimore the percentage on food stamps was 24% when Obama first came to office, and then it really took off.  Today it's more like 35%.  Or consider public housing.  According to HUD's website here, well less than 1% of U.S. families live in public housing.  In Baltimore, it's more like 4.5%.

Yet the government's own income statistics show that with all the programs and handouts, Baltimore remains poor and is not catching up.  And there's another statistic that I think is even more revealing.  Take the number of jobs in the country here, and divide by the population, and you get an employment-to-population ratio.  For the U.S. as a whole, depending on which measure of employment you use, you get something in the range of 44 - 47%.  For Baltimore, the Maryland Department of Labor says that the December 2014 unemployment rate was 8.2% -- it doesn't sound so bad.  But divide the number employed in Baltimore (251,889) by the 2014 population (622,793) and you get barely 40%.  That means there's a good 5% of the population -- more like 6.5% of the working age population -- that is working in other places in the country but is not working in Baltimore.  These people don't show up in the labor force or in the official unemployment rate.

This is tens of thousands of people.  Who are they?  A very good hypothesis is that large numbers of them have been appearing on our television screens the last couple of days.  Without doubt, there is a good deal of idleness in many of their lives.  Others likely work at what might be called "non-traditional" activities, without getting counted by the government as employed.  They have been relieved of the necessity of steady, regular work by the supposed kindness of the government programs.  This is a prescription for exactly the result we have been seeing.

The fundamental assumption behind the government programs and handouts is that the recipient population is just not up to the job of taking care of itself like the rest of us.  The correct term for this is liberal racism.  The young men have been put in the insulting and demeaning position where their wives/girlfriends and children don't need them for support and they are "free" to hang out, take or deal drugs, or hustle on the street.  Should we be surprised that they are aimless and angry?  I too would be in their position.  Now, why they vote with 90 or so percent majorities for more of the same, that I can't explain.  But it is very, very hard not to take the handout. 

UPDATE, July 25, 2018:  A reader wrote in to inform me that my links to the Census data for Baltimore did not work any more because the Census Bureau had moved the data to a new site.  So I have update the links above.  However, unfortunately, the data have also changed, and no longer match the numbers in the post, although the changes are not material to the points made.  I have left in the post the data that were provided by Census at the date of the post.