PO Box 19924
Baltimore, MD
21211

     

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2/11/14 - 2014 General Assembly Session, 1st Month Legislative Analysis

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Children's Zone

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Life 101

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Doug Barry

Historian, Political Philosopher, Veteran


  Articles

Let's Give ALL Young Marylanders a Promising Future

Many of our young people in Maryland grow to become successful adults. Some of our public schools are among the best in the country. Some children in the state are fortunate enough to be raised in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. There are, however, many young residents growing up in our state who are not so fortunate. We have families that have remained poor for generations. We have neighborhoods in Baltimore where children must stay inside all day to be safe. When they are home, many of our students are distracted by rats, hunger and the family stress that usually accompanies financial difficulties in the family. Children are raised with no money skills, because their parents don't have the skills to pass on.

We need to start with children at a young age, but we can't abandon older children. Our high schools must graduate students fully prepared to survive and thrive as adults. In teaching adults, I've had students that were products of the Baltimore City School system, that were very bright and could verbally answer any question they were given, but were functionally illiterate. It may not be a frequent occurrence, but it shouldn't happen at all. Students leave school without knowing how to interview, how to dress for work or how to manage money. We need to teach both ethics and civics. We need to teach students to respect themselves and to respect the opposite gender.

There are multiple steps we will need to take. There are a variety of programs that could be implemented that are achievable and would pay for themselves.

NO SOCIAL PROGRAM IS BETTER THAN A JOB

We need to target neighborhoods where we will take all the steps we need to help families get ahead. We can leverage public funds by coordinating our efforts with private investors and non-profit organizations. If funding requires us to start small, we can implement programs block by block. The savings in social programs and law enforcement, and the increase in tax revenue will cover the expense of expanding into additional areas.

One of the worse stresses a family can face is economic hardship. Children raised in these households are often exposed to frequent arguments, or even domestic violence. Divorce rates are also higher, so there is a greater chance that children will be raised in a single-parent household. Children are more likely to go to school hungry. The distractions a child faces can have a major negative impact on their ability to concentrate in school.

The first step in ending the stress on a family is by making sure one or both parents have decent employment. We can make a concentrated effort to find employers that will give hiring preferences to residents of target areas. Where needed we can give specialized job training to help meet the needs of employers (there is a successful program in Georgia we can use as a model). Parents working in minimum-wage positions would be given the assistance needed to find jobs that pay higher wages. Teenagers also can be helped to find starter positions that will introduce them to the working world.

KEEPING KIDS OUT OF TROUBLE

The lack of teenage employment, the lack of afterschool activities and the lack of hope for the future combined together is a formula for trouble in a teenager's life. As we lost corporate and manufacturing jobs to states that are perceived as being friendlier to business, the jobs that would have been taken by teenagers in the past are now frequently held by adults trying to support their families. The first job teaches responsibility, how to behave in the workplace and how to find their next job. It's an opportunity to learn about money. It helps fight boredom.

Avoiding boredom is a strong motivator for young people. An unfortunate budget battle that we've had to fight in recent years has been over the closure of city rec centers. Our government often looks at the cost of keeping funding in place, but doesn't look at the cost of removing funding. If we save money on a rec center, but have to spend more on law enforcement as a result, then it was a bad financial decision. Rec centers, afterschool activities and late-night basketball keep young people out of trouble.

Off-Road Motorcycles have been another issue for teens looking for recreational activity. The bikes are illegal in Baltimore for good reason. Two of the incumbents, technically running on the same ticket, have taken aggressive stances on opposite sides of this issue, to the point where hostile comments have been generated. There are valid points on both sides of the argument. Along a stretch of Reisterstown Road, near Druid Hill Park, bikes race at high speed and weave in and out between traffic. I've seen it first hand, and it's a dangerous situation. The argument is also made that young Baltimoreans shouldn't have to fight a legal battle, and that they need the recreational activity. The legislators in our next General Assembly need to be able to work together to find compromises in difficult situations. Maybe it's time to find a location and funding to build a track for off-road bikes. Done the right way it could even generate a profit.

One other consequence of a lack of afterschool activity is that it leaves the door open for teenagers to be influenced by the wrong people. When there is no hope that the city and state will give them a decent future, the false sense of hope and security that can be provided by some of the worse elements of society can be very appealing. This, combined with the desire to escape from boredom, can take adolescents down a path that is difficult to recover from.  Next