It’s a cruel twist of fate that those consigned — for whatever reason — to poverty pay a penalty on such things as household goods. It’s a phenomenon most recently tracked by professor Yesim Orhun at the University of Michigan, who documented that those who are poor pay on average 5.9 percent more per sheet of toilet paper than those with the means to stock up when the price goes down.
In the eye-opening words of one Washington Post reporter, it’s expensive to be poor.
There’s an entire literature out there analyzing what has been termed the “cycle of poverty,” but Orhun’s research puts it in day-to-day terms. The conclusion is that the deck is stacked against those trying to break out of poverty. But unless we’re poor — and there are many of us who are — what’s the big deal?
Let’s look at it through a much bigger lens with the following question: Which is the “real” Baltimore? The violence-ridden one flashed across television screens nationwide almost a year ago? Or the pristine, tourist-friendly one that occupies prime real estate around the Inner Harbor?
It’s really a trick question, because the fact of the matter is that Baltimore encompasses both such realities and many more in between. But while Baltimore is a true “city of neighborhoods” in that Mount Washington has a unique character vastly different from Park Heights, what affects one — say, in Penn-North or Sandtown-Winchester — affects us all.
As you’ll read in this week’s JT, many in the Jewish community are intimately involved in the city’s efforts to sell Baltimore to a skeptical United States more conversant in the Freddie Gray riots than in the home prices in Federal Hill. Others are working to strengthen those neighborhoods and communities hardest hit by the violence, as well as the systemic problems of poverty and government neglect that contribute to crime.
Both goals are inextricably linked.
“What we can do on a practical level is build a positive outlook,” says Rabbi Ariel Fishman, director of JHeritage at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
But make no mistake: What now faces the city is an uphill battle, and if we accept the premise that Baltimore is essentially a “poor” city, we must recognize that the same deck that is stacked against financially poor citizens presents even more challenges to the city that houses them. Just as helping them out of poverty will require an entire community’s support, lifting Baltimore out of the morass that has seen hotel room bookings plummet and housing sales soften will require the collective effort of Baltimoreans of all stripes, backed by an army of non-profits and the support of the state and federal governments.
If we want a better Baltimore, we must all contribute.