A short ladder

September 27, 1991

At a breakfast of community leaders this morning, the Investing in Baltimore Committee, a two-year-old organization of local black executives, released a study undertaken by the prestigious Washington research think-tank, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which confirms statistically what all too obvious: While blacks constitute nearly 60 percent of Baltimore's population, only about 5 percent of the city's professional and managerial work force is drawn from their ranks. And the figure seems to have been stuck at that level for the past decade.

Compared to four other urban centers examined in the survey -- Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis and Richmond -- Baltimore doesn't fare all that badly. Nevertheless, the statistics speak for themselves: The managerial and professional ladder for a majority of Baltimore's inhabitants is woefully short. Inevitably this creates a sense of despair and resentment.

The diverse reasons for this situation are all too well known, and ++ are not in any sense the result of some malign conspiracy to keep blacks down. The causes are generational poverty, collapsing industry, corporate mergers, a neglected school system in which half the children drop out before they even finish high school, not to speak of never going to the colleges to which we must look to produce the professional and managerial class.

And certainly the present recession does not help matters; the maelstrom that has beset the financial industry in Baltimore has been especially devastating for black professionals and managers.

Add to these the social inertia of simply doing things the way they have always been done, and we have a situation in which the obstacles to advancement are so arduous that one can readily see where even a talented and ambitious youngster would despair and give up.

In releasing the study, President Eddie N. Williams of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said it all in two sentences: "The cities that will prosper in the future are those that develop a successful strategy today to tap all their human resources. Among other things, this means creating opportunity ladders to enable workers from all racial and ethnic groups to move up within their companies."

We would only underscore the word all. As the IBC puts it: "The black underclass of the region -- mainly in the city -- is not going to leave; the only option we have is to strive with great diligence and deliberateness for a better balance between the size of the black middle class and the size of this underclass."

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