“The national picture in Baltimore was never optimistic and balanced to begin with,” says Johns Hopkins sociologist Stefanie DeLuca. That simplistic story was further thrown out of balance with bone-headed national news coverage of the unrest that swept the city a year ago, following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
But DeLuca, who has been studying the prospects and outcomes of young people in Baltimore, wanted to create a more nuanced picture. In Coming of Age in the Other America, DeLuca and her co-authors examined more than a decade’s worth of in-depth data and interviews with young people who grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One notable finding: Contrary to some popular depictions, most of these kids were actively resisting the drugs and violence of the street; their high school completion and employment rates were much higher than those of their parents.
While many of them still struggled (and are still struggling), DeLuca says that a number of policies and life factors seemed to be related to positive outcomes. The move away from large public housing buildings and toward housing vouchers that could be used in wealthier neighborhoods seems to have helped; also important were more personal factors, like having a personal “identity project” that gave them a source of passion and grounding.
But ultimately, the book argues, we still have a long way to go. “This isn’t just about Baltimore. This is about the chances that a poor child will become a middle-class adult, and the fact that these chances are becoming less and less likely,” DeLuca told the Hopkins Hub. “Why do we continue to see cycles of intergenerational disadvantage? At what points do we see progress, and at what points can we intervene?”