through the five years they were in elementary school (1982-1987), half the city's jobs in primary metals, shipbuilding repair, and transportation assembly disappeared (Levine 1987,107). The historic core of Baltimore's industrial might had relocated offshore, to the region's rapidly expanding suburbs and low-wage parts of the country, or simply faded away in favor of the new postindustrial economy. This new economy provides lucrative careers for workers in high-end technology and the so-called FIRE industries—finance, insurance, and real estate—but mainly low-wage, low-benefit jobs for those in the expanding service sector (for example, Olson 1997). Ranked eighty-seventh among the nation's hundred largest cities in median income, by 2000 Baltimore had become a poor city in the country's wealthiest state (Walters and Miserendino 2008,3).
Poor, yes, but not uniformly so. Baltimore in fact had become, and is today, "two cities—a city of developers, suburban professionals, and 'back-to-the-city' gentry ... and a city of impoverished blacks and displaced manufacturing workers, who continue to suffer from shrinking economic opportunities, declining public services, and neighborhood distress" (Levine 1987, 103). This book is about the children of the second Baltimore, the one largely untouched by the much-touted renaissance redevelopment of the city's Inner Harbor port area away from shipping and manufacturing in favor of tourism and white-collar employment (Levine 1987; Ann LoLordo, "A Smaller, Poorer City in the Future," Baltimore Sun, January 18,1987, p. IE). They are the urban disadvantaged, as explained in the sections that follow.
Who are these children? Disadvantaged families live in the poorest parts of the city. Often these are areas of concentrated poverty, where 20 percent, 40 percent, or more of the residents are poor or jobless or both. In the worst of these, when children leave home they find themselves in the midst of poverty, crime, and urban decay, and see boarded- up houses and empty businesses lining their streets. Consider Mae's (a pseudonym) account of the West Baltimore neighborhood—low income, African American—where she grew up:
I was living... near like the Pratt Street area, I’ratt anti Baltimore Street, in
between. It was bad, it was real bad. Drug, very hard drug area. Actually, I
seen, like, right in my street where I lived at, I seen somebody die there....
That's how it was for me, you know.
Middle-class children might catch a glimpse of this world on the way downtown for a ballgame or to visit a museum, but it is at a far remove, in kind if not distance, from what they experience when out and about. Inviting playgrounds and parks dot their world, with ample green space and the latest equipment, and the daily rhythm to life has people doing ordinary things—going off to work in the morning, or out to shop, or into the yard to garden.
But the ordinary in one setting can be quite extraordinary in another. Adults are visible throughout the day in high-poverty neighborhoods too, but often just hanging out, sometimes sipping from bottles in brown paper bags. Gangs, public drug-dealing, and prostitution can make the playgrounds not all that inviting. Often they are covered with concrete, not grass, with broken bottles and used needles strewn about. William Julius Wilson (1978) tells us that life in low-income urban America was not always this way, but the exodus of jobs, the middle class (whites initially, later followed by African Americans), and stabilizing institutions has left many of them bereft of employment opportunities and good role models for children.
Despite a large scholarly literature on these "ghetto poor," to use Wilson's now preferred characterization (2006), in the popular mind they are still the urban underclass, pejorative connotations and all. Consider Myron Magnet's (1987) characterization from around the time at issue: "What primarily defines them is not so much their poverty or race as their behavior—their chronic lawlessness, drug use, out-of-wedlock births, non-work, welfare dependency and school failure. 'Underclass' describes a state of mind and a way of life."1
We think we know who these people are: angry black men caught up in the swirl of crime and drugs and poorly educated young black women with babies out of wedlock, images that dominate media portrayals of communities like Mae's. The area of West Baltimore where Mae grew up achieved unwelcome notoriety in the book The Corner (Simon and Burns 1997) and then, in 2000, a made-for-teJevision movie based on it.2 A look at the urban underclass as portrayed in The Corner will prove instructive, as its geographic focus and time frame take in some of the children whose lives are chronicled in this volume. Instructive as a negative example, it advances a view of the urban disadvantaged that is widely held, but badly mistaken.
The Face of Urban Disadvantage in The Corner
Subtitled A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, The Corner is a journalistic account of two neighborhoods on Baltimore's west side brought down by an open-air drug market. It is a truly horrific portrayal of life on the mean streets of the city, a tale of families decimated and lives destroyed by drugs and the drug trade. The publisher, Random House, tells us online that The Corner "examines the sinister realities of inner cities across the country."3 No doubt it does, but the "realities" it portrays are one-sided and incomplete. Two other urban ethnographies from around the same time, Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street (2000) in Philadelphia and Mary Pattillo-McCoy's Black Picket Fences (2000) in Chicago, provide a stark contrast.
All three books have much to say about the tangled web of drugs, crime, and urban decay, but The Corner offers little more: in a book of 535 pages, one is hard pressed to find more than a handful of sympathetic characters. In its rendering of life in the big city, there are no caring teachers or social workers or ministers or store owners or cops or parents or neighbors. The ties that bind, rather, are utterly and unremittingly destructive.
Missed in their account is that these communities are not just drug dens; they also are home to many "decent folk" (Anderson 2000), the poor, near-poor, and nonpoor who struggle mightily to forge respectable lives free of fear. The Long Shadow also is about those living in "inner cities across the country," but our experience offers a different view of these neighborhoods. To correct the distortions perpetrated in popular accounts like The Corner, we turn to two sources: census data on the section of Baltimore profiled in The Corner and our own sampling of children who grew up there.
The Corner is a real place—a map in the front of the book locates it at the in tersection of West Fayette and North Monroe Streets in West Baltimore. This intersection straddles two of the 266 Baltimore Neighborhood Statistical Areas developed by the City Housing Authority from census blocks to approximate authentic neighborhoods, which census tracts do not quite do because their boundaries can be quite arbitrary. They are Penrose-Fayette Street Outreach (PF) on the west side of North Monroe (3,810 residents in 2000) and Franklin Square (FS) on the east side (3,550 residents). Most of The Corner's drama takes place in Franklin Square, the more economically depressed of the two. So who lives in these two neighborhoods, and is The Corner's rendering faithful to their reality?
Using the 2000 Census because it is closest in time to the book's 1997 publication, we find that both neighborhoods are racially segregated and include many female-headed, single-parent households. Against Baltimore City overall and relative to Penrose-Fayette, conditions in Franklin Square are much harsher. Franklin Square has the kind of neighborhood profile one might expect from The Corner, but even that neighborhood defies simple characterization as an underclass ghetto.
Table 1.1 The Comer in 2000 Census Data
Note: All numbers except total residents in percentages.
It ain't like a all-black neighborhood here and they don't like us cause we're a all-white neighborhood. Everybody . . . we all live together down there. It's more blacks around our way. But. . . everybody gets along with everybody.
Idealized perhaps, but from this young man's perspective, the big clash locally was with the "uppity class people" in a neighborhood some distance off—those he calls "the rock 'n roll type":
it ain't like the black and white thing. It's like inner city. That's where we live at. And we used to fight them. Ain't like we fought em cause they're white. It just they used to act different. They used to sit and talk about us like we were stupid and everything like that. It's just they would talk about us, white and black and like Hispanic kids was down there. Cause, you know, it wasn't cause of the race. It was like cause they're different. Different. . . um . . . economic class.
Clyde is working-class white, a high school dropout who completed high school by way of the GED.
This excursion into the area of Baltimore made infamous in The Comer reminds us that no single template can do justice to life in the "inner cities across the country"; nor do all of the urban disadvantaged fit the underclass profile. The point of most immediate relevance is that urban disadvantaged and urban underclass are not the same. The underclass are, under most constructions of the term, a small minority of the nation's poor, and that includes the poor who reside in high-poverty communities (see Jencks 1991). Indeed, by some estimates they are a declining minority (see Jargowsky and Sawhill 2006), though whether that reversal still holds owing to the recent deep recession remains to be seen.
This book is not a journalist account of the urban underclass, but rather a social-scientific inquiry into the lives of the urban disadvantaged. The Corner's characterization of life on the "mean streets" of Baltimore is recognizable in some of the youth who are the focus of this volume, but The Long Shadow also tells of the successes of those who recover from a misstep along the way. Our goal is to present a picture of the whole range of urban disadvantage over a long enough time frame to gain perspective on some of the considerations that move them along different life paths. From this glimpse of inner-city children grown up, we have already learned that:
not all disadvantaged youth follow the same path;
many who slip along the way manage to recover;
urban disadvantage is not color coded as is commonly thought; and
neighborhoods that appear similar to the casual observer can be quite dissimilar in ways that bear on children's later life prospects.