For Donald Trump, fixing the problems that plague cities is simple: build businesses. The Republican presidential front-runner sat down with The Washington Post’s editorial board on Monday to discuss his bid for the White House. As they walked through his jobs-heavy campaign rhetoric, Trump described how he would create better living conditions in America’s inner cities, particularly Baltimore.
“I’d create economic zones. I’d create incentives for companies to move in. I’d work on spirit, because the spirit is so low, it’s incredible, the unemployment, you look at unemployment for black youth in this country, African-American youth, is 58, 59 percent. It’s unthinkable,” Trump said. “Unemployment for African-Americans — not youth, but African-Americans — is very high.”
If Trump’s emphasis on creating economic opportunities sounds familiar, it’s because Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made similar comments in response to civil unrest following the killings of unarmed black people by police, emphasizing the importance of economic development and employment in communities of color.
Though Clinton and Sanders share Trump’s view that high unemployment rates in black communities are an issue, however, they also acknowledge something Trump won’t: systemic racism plays a major role in black unemployment rates — not to mention in police abuses and mass incarceration.
Baltimore, the city the Post used in its interview with Trump to illustrate the issues that plague urban centers nationwide, was rocked by protests following the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who sustained a fatal spinal cord injury in police custody last year.
As a result, residents' strained relationships with police, among other problems, starting gaining national attention. The city's unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, almost three percentage points higher than the national rate of 4.9 percent. Around 24 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line and at least 46,800 homes are blighted. In Sandtown-Winchester — the neighborhood that was once home to Gray — more than 50 percent of residents ages 16 to 64 are unemployed and many have minor drug convictions.
At the PBS Democratic debate in Milwaukee last month, both Clinton and Sanders discussed mass incarceration and police violence against unarmed black people, and acknowledged other ways racism hurts communities of color.
“When you have childhood African-American poverty rates of 35 percent, when you have youth unemployment at 51 percent, when you have unbelievable rates of incarceration — which, by the way, leaves the children back home without a dad or even a mother — clearly, we are looking at institutional racism,” Sanders said.
In addition to the disproportionately high incarceration rate for African-Americans, Clinton said, "There are other racial discrepancies -- really systemic racism in this state, as in others -- in education, in employment, in the kind of factors that too often lead from a position where young people, particularly young men, are pushed out of school early, are denied employment opportunities."
But Trump actually dodged questions about racial disparities in law enforcement, criminal justice and police reform during his interview with the Post. Instead, he reiterated previous statements that police officers are the most mistreated people in the country, vaguely mentioned "incentives," and pointed his finger at China.
“I have no opinion on that,” he said when the Post asked about racial inequity in law enforcement. “Because frankly, what I’m saying is, you know, we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work.”
“And you know we have lost millions and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they’ve been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it’s tremendous,” he added.
The GOP front-runner also told the Post he believed that mass incarceration “can be solved to a large extent with jobs.”
Though Clinton and Sanders have also emphasized the importance of creating jobs in poor communities, their proposals are far more focused on addressing systemic issues of racial inequality than Trump's.
Investing in impoverished black communities is a highlight of Clinton’s racial justice platform. Her Economic Revitalization Initiative aims to invest $125 billion in job creation, infrastructure rebuilding, ending blight and instituting fair housing in communities of color.
Sanders wants to spend $5.5 billion creating 1 million jobs for underprivileged Americans while raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — a move that will affect nearly 50 percent of black Americans and 60 percent of Latinos.
Trump has taken a different approach. Though he implied in a series of tweets in December that he also thought wages were too low (after Sanders accused the mogul of not wanting to raise the minimum wage), his proposals for job creation seem mostly focused on keeping foreigners out. He maintains that tougher immigration laws would make it easier for poor people to earn middle-class wages, and said he would phase out the J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth, replacing it with a resume bank for kids living in urban centers. In his interview with the Post, he did vaguely mention creating "economic zones" and "incentives" in poor communities, but hasn't really elaborated on any of these proposals.
Charles Lane, who sits on The Washington Post editorial board, pointed out that creating economic zones and incentives is not a new response to cyclical poverty, noting that Baltimore has received immense amounts of federal aid over the years. Asked how his proposal differed from those other attempts, Trump gave another non-answer.
Despite mentioning that racial division in America is “as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” he chalked up the problems to “a lack of spirit” and concluded that he would make “a great cheerleader for the country.”
“When you look at the Ferguson problems and the Baltimore problems and the Detroit problems, and you know there’s a lack of spirit," Trump said. "I actually think I’d be a great cheerleader — beyond other things, the other things that I’d do — I actually think I’d be a great cheerleader for the country. Because a lot of people feel it’s a hopeless situation. A lot of people in the inner cities, they feel that way. And you have to start by giving them hope and giving them spirit, and that has not taken place, just has not taken place.”