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Mental health resources, affordable child care, and better police relations would go a long way toward improving the lives of disadvantaged youths.

A recent Brookings Institution blog post presented a snapshot of Baltimore’s economic and racial inequality, illuminating the social realities that fueled the unrest following the police-induced death of Freddie Gray. Here’s Alan Berube and Brad McDearman:

While criminal justice policy and police-community relationships are arguably at the core of the present debate, the economic and social context in which those actions took shape matters greatly too.

Berube and McDearman go on to explain that Baltimore is, by national standards, a relatively affluent metro area. It’s got plenty of jobs, and they pay well. But the fruits of its prosperity are disproportionately borne by the rich and the white.

The Baltimore metro has the second-largest median income for black households, but African Americans are still the predominant residents of the city’s high-poverty neighborhoods.

Here are Brookings folks explaining the consequences of these living patterns:

Those neighborhoods are predominantly black, reflecting a long history of explicit and implicit policies in the region that yielded high levels of racial and economic segregation. This racial isolation and poverty concentration help account for stark differences between Baltimore’s black and white populations in key economic outcomes like education, employment, and child poverty.

The chart from their blog post below attests to these disparities. In Baltimore, African Americans do far worse economically than their white counterparts on several key economic measures:

This socio-economic disparity is more a rule than an exception, so this week, the Urban Institute is pooling together solutions to help resolve some of the challenges faced by Baltimore—and other cities like it. While UI’s evidence-based recommendations draw from various policy arenas (policing and criminal justice, child care, and housing) they have a recurring theme: a focus on youth.

Here are two of UI’s suggestions that address the needs of the children and young, low-income, people of color in these neighborhoods.

Engage the Kids, Help Their Families

Kids living in isolated, distressed neighborhoods in cities across America face an everyday battle against poverty and violence. Here's how UI’s Susan J. Popkin and Sade Adeeyo describe those circumstances in a blog post:

Living with chronic violence and social isolation has less visible, but very real psychic costs for children and adults. It means living in a place where everyone has been traumatized by loss and violation. It means you spend every day paranoid. It means you distrust your neighbors and the very people in place to support and protect your safety. It means having to normalize neighborhood disorder in order to cope with decades of neglect. Like a tape playing on repeat, this burden sends a message to young people especially that their lives, their voices don’t matter.

Incorporating mental health resources for parents and children into other aid interventions might help make sure that they have the tools to cope with this difficult environment, and that their education doesn’t suffer. Helping parents find affordable housing and child care can free them up to get a job—or get training to upgrade to a higher-paying job, writes UI’s Gina Adams.

UI’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) Demonstration, for example, tackles all of these challenges simultaneously. HOST is a “two-generation” public housing-based approach that ensures kids get the help they need to succeed, and that their parents are better able to provide for them.

Reevaluate Police Relations With Youths of Color

In another post in the UI series, Jesse Jannetta and Samuel Bieler explain how the “broken windows” school of policing affects communities (specifically, youths) of color in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods:  

This type of policing focuses on low-level offenses and results in police encounters with a broad swath of residents in targeted neighborhoods. In some New York neighborhoods, nearly 80 percent of young men report being stopped, questioned, and frisked in a single year. Whether this type of policing reduces crime is hotly debated, but as a larger dose of policing, it increases the incidence of harmful side effects.

They argue that many of these communities feel that they are over-policed for small offenses but abandoned by the police when it comes to the real crimes, like homicides and assaults. In Baltimore, for example, only half of the homicides were solved in 2013—but undue force is rampant. Tweaking these policies to correct these perceptions by young people of color may help avoid another Baltimore-like unrest scenario. The UI post concludes:

Policing is strong medicine, and sometimes it’s badly needed. However, only by using that medicine judiciously can we ensure that the treatment does not cause more suffering than it cures.

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