The scenes of violence from the riots in Baltimore last week shocked and saddened the country. The police force’s unfair treatment of a suspect was the catalyst for the chaos. But if we take a deeper look at the situation, we see that Baltimore is a city beset with many other problems.
For many residents of Baltimore, upward mobility has stagnated. The unemployment rate in zip code 21217, where the riots took place, was 19.1% in 2011. Less than 60% of Baltimore’s high school students ever graduate. Without any meaningful employment prospects taking shape, many residents of the city are left to contemplate a bleak existence as they scrape by on public assistance. In many respects, the rioting largely reflected the rioters’ hopelessness over their economic condition.
Clearly, a great piece of the solution to avoiding another Baltimore situation is to boost the economic fortunes of our young urban population. If we fail to develop the talent of young people, then we will never make gains against the kinds of despair and frustration that helped lead to the riots. It sounds extreme, but public safety is threatened when young people are out of work. We can only expect more urban violence where education is not a priority.
Ideas like early college high schools and apprenticeships are useful in fulfilling this goal. But another cornerstone policy we should adopt to help develop skills adaptable to the workforce is to use technology to help advance the goal of aligning students with jobs. Students who grow up in bad environments, with bad schools and little academic guidance, have the potential to be highly confused about their career prospects. They need data-driven pathways to help them identify their skills and see where they can best contribute in the workplace.
Moreover, the individualized attention that these pathways can help boost the confidence of many students who have been written off as insignificant, or beyond hope. Many underserved students have never received individualized attention in their lives, whether from parents, teachers, or the social service system. Setting up customizable pathways which map students to jobs help give young students a sense that they are not anonymous, and that their prospects matter as much as anyone’s.
Where students are without skills, promising futures fade. When can’t find talent America loses. We must support our young people by guiding them down targeted pathways to employment. It is then that they can participate in society, and not destroy it.