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Baltimore's Stealth Economic Issues


When large numbers of people in a community are angry, it’s like a volcano that’s ready to blow. On Monday, the volcano blew.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When people can’t make ends meet, they get frustrated. And when those ends keep pulling further apart – no matter how hard people try to bring them together – frustration turns into anger. And when large numbers of people in a community are angry, it’s like a volcano that’s ready to blow.

In Baltimore on Monday, the volcano blew.

This is not to diminish the horror of what happened to Freddie Gray, the 24-year-old black man who was healthy when he was arrested and then died of a spinal cord injury while in police custody earlier this month.

But Gray’s death wasn’t the sole cause of the rioting, looting and arson that took place in Baltimore on Monday. The people’s frustration-turned-to-anger over everything in their lives helped pull the trigger.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) 

For years, the hardworking people of Baltimore and in cities throughout the U.S. have been unable to keep up with the cost of living increase.

Increases in salaries – as well as increases in entitlements such as unemployment benefits, food stamps and Social Security payments – are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which has risen 2.1 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent over the last three years. That means people are supposed to be satisfied – happy, even – when they get a 2 or 3 percent annual raise in their income.

But have you been to the supermarket lately? Every shopper – anyone who buys anything – knows that the CPI vastly underrepresents the increase in the cost of living. The real price increases over the last three years in Baltimore, as shown in the Chapwood Index, have been 10.6 percent, 12.0 percent and 11.6 percent. So if you live in Baltimore and your income hasn’t been going up 11 percent every year, you’ve been falling behind. You’re increasingly trying to make ends meet and seeing them pull further apart.

If you’re in the middle class, or working two jobs in an effort to join the middle class, or on Social Security or collecting unemployment, and you live in Baltimore or just about any other city in America, then there’s a dark cloud above your head even on a sunny day. And it doesn’t take much to make a hard rain fall.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s progressive agenda over the last eight years created an unmanageable economic landscape for the people of Baltimore. Increased taxes and onerous regulations imposed on businesses dramatically raised the true cost of living. Many businesses were forced to close shop or move elsewhere.

It created frustration, which led to anger. It was like storing oil-soaked rags in the basement, waiting for a spark. On Monday, the death of Freddie Gray ignited the fire.

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