Job Choices For Urban Youth: Drug Dealing Or Starbucks

An article in The Economist titled “Back from The Brink” tells the story of the falling crime rate in Baltimore. The story describes such things as community policing and new laws which have aided the effort.

However it was the following paragraphs that caught my attention. They present the sad, shocking truth of the employment choices for many urban youth.

A big problem for the police (and more so for respectable ghetto residents) is the unfortunate truth that for many young men, gangster culture is alluring. Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered, drug-dealing is not a bad job, says Peter Moskos, a sociologist who spent a year as a policeman in Baltimore’s eastern district. You hang out with your friends. People “respect” (ie, fear) you. You project glamour. You get laid.

You also become otherwise unemployable, says Mr Moskos. To survive on the street, you learn to react violently and pre-emptively to the slightest challenge. This is a useful trait for a drug-dealer, but, oddly, managers at Starbucks do not value it.

What do you mean “Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered”?  Isn’t that an oxymoron? A path that doesn’t build employment skills in Corporate America. Too funny in a very dark, twisted way.

At a charity fund raising dinner last Saturday, a speaker told a roomful of high acheivers that we cannot take too much credit for who we are no matter how hard we have worked to become successful. His point was that we do not determine when we are born, where we are born or who our parents are.

I do not think I fully understood the point until I read this article. I was fortunate to be born in the middle class and not in a dangerous urban environment or in a poor third world country. I am one of the lucky ones.


A Disturbing World

I saw the movie American Gangster yesterday. Good but not great though The reviewers and some friends of mine thought it was closer to great. This, however is not a movie review.

This movie disturbed me in the way all violence, real or cinematic, does whether it is war, suicide bombings, killings of protesters to some oppressive regime, a boy shot and killed last summer within two blocks of my son’s high school, or a movie crime lord putting a bullet in someone’s head. I become unnerved for awhile.

So far the violence, drug abuse, extreme poverty and hatred of this world has not touched me or my family directly. It has stayed outside of the circle of people I know. But for how long? Are we rushing to destruction in our my lifetime or my son’s lifetime? I know that these thoughts are extreme but I have a low violence threshold and when I am exposed to the images these thoughts take awhile to get over.

I contrast the these images with the rich life that most of the people I know live. These lives are rich not just in material things but in experiences. Then there is the absurd contrast to the lives of the extremely wealthy that I have come to know through my profession. Talk about insulated from the darkness. Money is spent in unconscionable sums on fluff. This disturbs me too but in ways different than the violence and not nearly as much.

By tomorrow these disturbing thoughts of a disturbing world will begin to recede. At least until I hear about the next senseless death. I guess I should stay away from the news media for a day or two.