Closing Baltimore's 'opportunity deficit'

A person's zip code shouldn't be allowed to predetermine their destiny

The Sun reported recently that Baltimore philanthropic and faith leaders had identified the lack of job opportunities for impoverished communities as a key obstruction to the city's recovery from the riots in April ("Cardin, nonprofit leaders discuss how to improve Baltimore after riots," July 6).

That sentiment echoes remarks that President Barack Obama made two months ago when he reiterated his commitment to "providing greater opportunity for young people" in the urban communities we saw torn apart not just in Baltimore, but in cities across the nation.

The need to change the trajectory of so many youth and young adults in Baltimore is clear. Changing that trajectory, though, requires knowing where you came from as well as where you want to go. In thinking about that, a Boston-based nonprofit organization called Opportunity Nation has developed an "Opportunity Index" that may be useful.

Close to one in four Baltimoreans lives in poverty. Nearly one in five people in the city ages 16-24 is neither in school nor working. That's nearly 18,000 people.

Median household income in Baltimore is 58 percent of that of Maryland as a whole. And regrettably, the riots remind us of how pervasive crime is in Baltimore — some 384 percent greater than the national average.

Quite simply, Baltimore is suffering from an opportunity deficit.

Why? For starters, even though Maryland is heralded for its education system, it falls short in Baltimore City.

Whereas 84 percent of high school freshmen statewide graduate in four years, only 66 percent do so in Baltimore. We know that education is a fundamental building block for improved opportunity. Without some kind of postsecondary credential today, full-time jobs that pay a livable wage will be increasingly hard to come by.

Without a high school diploma teenagers and young adults significantly increase the likelihood that they will become dependent on social services, have a higher incidence of criminal activity and in general fall off the opportunity ladder.

In Baltimore, only 30 percent of adults 25 and over have at least an associate's degree. That is 30 percent below the state average.

Baltimore can do better. Baltimore has to do better.

A person's ZIP code shouldn't be allowed to predetermine their destiny. Building upon the roundtable discussion that Sen. Ben Cardin recently organized ("Cardin, nonprofit leaders discuss how to improve Baltimore after riots," July 6), let's fix Baltimore's opportunity deficit and give young people the opportunity to not only change their destinies but also those of families, neighbors and communities.

Greg Schuckman, Ellicott City

The writer serves on the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

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