Baltimore-area residents’ daily experiences and outlooks differ substantially by race — how they view neighborhoods, police, schools — according to a new survey from Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Among the findings: Black residents of the Baltimore area were more likely to have lost a loved one to COVID and to experience issues with food insecurity and transportation.

The survey, which mirrors the previous results of others, is the first in what Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities Initiative researchers say will be an annual survey of life around Baltimore that they hope will inform community members and policy makers about the region’s strengths and challenges. Researchers discussed their findings Tuesday afternoon.

“One of the things we really wanted to try to do with this survey is build a body of evidence that’s Baltimore-specific, that we can use as historical comparisons over time,” said Michael Bader, an associate professor at Hopkins who also directs the 21st Century Cities Initiative.

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Take the reinvigoration of the Red Line, a proposal killed by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015 that state and city lawmakers are currently working to bring back to life.

“Knowing what transportation insecurity is now means that over time, as the Red Line hopefully gets implemented within the next couple of years, that we would actually be able to see and measure how much of an impact it has on transportation security over time,” Bader said.

The survey queried 6,000 households in Baltimore City and 4,000 households in Baltimore County this summer, and had a response rate of 13.52%. Respondents received a mailed letter inviting them to take the survey, which included a $2 bill as an incentive. After completing the survey online, respondents were paid $5.

The overall survey has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points; subsets of those surveyed — such as Baltimore County residents alone — have larger margins of error.

Bader said researchers are planning on discussing their findings with officials from the city and county over the next few weeks.

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“What I would hope is that the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, when they think about what budget cuts to make, really think about what impact they have on disparities across different groups,” Bader said.

He hopes that future studies will include questions about gun violence and renting versus owning a home.

A city of neighborhoods

Baltimore is often fondly referred to by policymakers and residents as “a city of neighborhoods.” More than 250 different neighborhoods are officially recognized by City Hall.

Researchers asked residents to describe exactly how large their neighborhoods are; more than half of said their neighborhoods are smaller than 10 blocks.

Residents reported feeling overwhelmingly positive about their neighborhoods. About seven out of every eight respondents said they were “extremely” or “somewhat” satisfied with their neighborhoods. County residents were about 8 percentage points more likely to report being satisfied, while Baltimore City residents were more likely to say their neighborhoods have become better places to live within the past five years. Black residents living in both the city and the county were much more likely than white residents to report improvements in neighborhood quality.

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One of the most pronounced differences between city and county residents was how respondents viewed the quality of public schools in the neighborhoods.

About 13% of city residents surveyed said their neighborhood’s public schools were excellent or very good, while about 28% of county residents surveyed said the same of their neighborhood schools.

Black and white residents polled reported viewing the public schools in their jurisdiction positively at similar rates. Baltimore City residents who reported a race other than Black or white were much more likely to say their neighborhood schools are very good or excellent.

Trust in institutions

Black and white residents reported drastically different experiences with transportation issues, and how they view encounters with police.

About three in four Baltimore-area residents of color surveyed said they fear police questioning or arrest, while the same proportion of white residents said they have no fear of police. And no matter which side of the city-county line respondents lived, there was little difference in opinion.

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One in three respondents said they have trouble with at least one aspect of their lives, such as missing appointments, due to transportation. But Baltimore-area residents of color said they were about twice as likely to have had transportation issues as white residents reported.

The majority of Baltimore City and county residents reported trusting the nonprofits and businesses in and near their neighborhoods to do what’s right. Respondents reported trusting local government about half as much as they did businesses and nonprofits.

Health

Just over a quarter of region residents polled reported the loss of a loved one during the pandemic. Black residents were more affected — 37.1% of Black respondents reported losing someone close to them, compared to 20.7% of white respondents and 21.3% of respondents of other races.

Baltimore-area residents were affected by drug addiction in similar numbers.

More than one-third of Baltimore County residents and nearly half of Baltimore residents know at least one person who is addicted to illegal drugs. And more than one-quarter of the region’s residents reported losing a loved one to a drug overdose.

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“While seeking to improve the health of Baltimore-area residents, it will be important to consider the manner in which these experiences shape those who have dealt with those losses,” researchers wrote.

Finance and entrepreneurship

Respondents reported that food insecurity is a major problem across the region — almost 40% said they worried that their food would run out before they got money to buy more at least once within the past year. About 35% reported that they could not afford balanced meals, while a quarter said they either ate less or skipped meals because they were worried about affording food.

About half of Black respondents experienced food insecurity, compared to 21.4% of white respondents. Black respondents were more likely to report experiencing more severe levels of food insecurity than white respondents.

The gig economy played a relatively small role in the region’s finances, researchers found. About 7% of Baltimore-area residents said they’d done work such as driving for Uber or delivering food via DoorDash in the last 30 days. Another 14.6% had performed gig jobs at some point in their lives, but not in the 30 days before taking the survey.

Black Baltimore-area residents were more likely than respondents of other races to identify entrepreneurship as the best path for financial success.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news. 

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