Every time we have riots like those seen in Milwaukee this weekend, the local leaders (usually long-term Democrats) say "We need to do more for these neighborhoods". But really, what do we have to offer those living in the most down-trodden areas in our largest cities?
Unfortunately, those folks have learned that having government-subsidized health insurance has made no real impact on their lives--since you can't just flash an insurance card to pay for your groceries or keep the lights on. There's plenty of talk about decriminalizing marijuana use--because those folks who were throwing rocks and burning down gas stations just needed a "little hit of the chronic" to make their problems disappear for a little while. And President Obama commuting drug sentences and putting dealers back on the streets in those same neighborhoods sends a real powerful message as well.
In the case of Milwaukee, those city leaders are offering what Sheriff David Clarke calls "the ghettos" a new downtown arena surrounded by upscale hotels and restaurants and high-end apartments and condos--which should be a source of many part-time jobs cleaning or doing other low-skill service work. And then of course, there is the streetcar line--which will connect the "entertainment district" with the new upscale residences near the lakeshore--not the neighborhoods where people who can't afford cars could actually ride it to their part-time menial jobs.
To be fair to Mayor Tom Barrett and the rest of the hapless Milwaukee City Hall leadership, arenas and restaurants are about the only thing they can offer in terms of economic development and new jobs. The days of our cities being industrial centers are over. Big plants employing thousands of people with varying levels of education and job skills use too much energy, emit too many carbons and threaten water supplies. So all of that work is now done by the Chinese and other Asian workers and shipped back to WalMart (which tends to avoid downtrodden neighborhoods as well).
As other cities have discovered, even when you put effort into improving high-poverty areas, things usually backfire. New public transportation lines, money to improve rental units and tear down dilapidated buildings and cleaning up street crime leads to young, white (liberal) professionals seeing those areas as the "hip new place to be"--so they come in with more money--driving up rents--and driving out those whom the improvements were supposed to benefit, in a process called "gentrification".
The demand to improve public schools in Milwaukee is spot on as well--but does nothing for the tens of thousands of dropouts and under-educated people that were already allowed to coast through the system for decades. And the man appointed to create better schools in the worst neighborhoods quit after the School Board and district officials refused to do business with him. So efforts to make things better have already met with failure.
So what do we offer those taking to the streets demanding "economic equality" and "social justice" that will actually fix the problem, long-term?