Rx for the cities

April 25, 1995

Two points made by University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson in a lecture Friday at Johns Hopkins University should be taken to heart by Baltimore and all other big cities in America.

Discussing the impact of joblessness on a host of other urban ills, Mr. Wilson chastised private industry for often shunning recent high school graduates even when they have jobs available that only require a high school education.

Mr. Wilson said many businesses will eventually hire the very same high school graduates they shunned but only after they have "matured" -- that is, gained experience elsewhere or been out of the workforce five or six years.

"By then they're in their mid-20s, but meanwhile, what are these kids doing over that six years in a sink or swim environment?" Mr. Wilson asked.

He said studies indicate that only 40 percent of all black high school students who graduate in the spring have a job by the following October. Mr. Wilson said that number probably drops to only 20 percent for black high school graduates living in inner-city neighborhoods.

Businesses must do a better job working with schools to provide the training high school students need so they can get jobs immediately after graduation. As Mr. Wilson noted, many other countries do a much better job at this than does the United States.

The second important point he made was that suburban residents must learn to appreciate what the core cities mean to ** their own existence and to work with the bigger cities to ensure their mutual futures.

Mr. Wilson noted the mounting evidence that the nation's cities and suburbs are economically interdependent. He pointed out that the suburbs that experienced increases in income in the 1980s were nearly always linked to a thriving urban core.

In the global competition for jobs, the competitive regions will be those with a well-trained work force, good schools, a concentration of professional services, first-class hospitals, a major university and research center and an efficient transportation link to the rest of the world.

Mr. Wilson rightly maintains that many of these developments must come from a viable central city. Cities and suburbs have to recognize this and work cooperatively to ensure that they both survive and thrive.

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