But at the heart of the incendiary situation in Baltimore and other once-great cities of America's industrial heartland is our single greatest national failure of the past 50 years. In a nutshell, jobs—well paying, often unionized jobs that once enabled millions of working Americans to join the middle class—have disappeared. The cities that once powered the "arsenal of democracy" to victory in World War II and fueled the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s weren't just battered by global competition. The neighborhood segregation that greeted the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South in places like Chicago and Baltimore was accelerated by the "white flight" to the suburbs which left America's manufacturing centers depopulated, decrepit and delineated by race. And as the data from both urban and rural areas show, Washington's anti-poverty programs have helped prevent the immiseration and hopelessness of America's persistent pockets of poverty from being even worse.
The table above helps tell the tale. Since 1950, many of America's greatest cities have undergone staggering declines. In Detroit and Cleveland, St. Louis and Buffalo, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the pattern is eerily similar. After reaching their peaks in 1950, the cities generally enjoyed a post-war boom that lasted into the early 1960s. But as recovering competition from Europe and Japan was joined by manufacturing losses to developing economies, the 1970s saw the dramatic contraction of America's manufacturing powerhouses.
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