If the candidates in this year's Baltimore City elections needed a starting point for the issues they must address, let them consider the words of Rosalind Seibles, a single mother who recently moved from West Baltimore into Baltimore County.
"I like it out here," she told Sun reporter Larry Carson for his recent report on the minority population boom in Baltimore County. "To me, it's like being on the other side of the world."
On the other side of the world.
Her words conjure up visions of the wide-open prairie, of an escape far away. And yet the 26-year-old mother of four had only moved her family a few miles west into a subsidized apartment in working-class Lansdowne. Ms. Seibles' flight from the city and of some 15,000 other city residents yearly is a study of the human condition and of urban decay. A decade ago, the black middle-class began following the white middle-class out. Now, the black underclass is leaving, too. A generation hence, will Baltimore consist only of disconnected reservations of the richest and the poorest?
The data is more bleak news for a city fighting the realities and the perceptions of troubled schools and drug war-zones. And yet the germ of this movement is powerful and heartening and should be a message for every elected official anywhere. Regardless of color or creed, everyone desires the same thing -- that nebulous condition called "quality of life."
When the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy asked people a few years ago if they thought they had a good quality of life, about 60 percent of Baltimoreans answered "yes," compared with 85 to 95 percent in the counties. The passage into Baltimore County is the free-market version of Moving to Opportunity, the program the federal government piloted last year to relocate families to places more livable.
Families leaving the city for Baltimore County are less well-off than those migrating into the outer suburbs. The new Baltimore countians are a third less likely to own a home than those moving into the outlying counties; half as likely to earn at least $25,000 a year; twice as likely to have no high school diploma. Even so, these families are doing whatever it takes to make themselves feel safe, including relocating.
People do not want to feel violated. They want security, especially for their children. And eventually, by whatever means they can muster, they will go where they must to find it. It's a demographic reality every city politician ought to heed.