The uprising in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder brought national attention to Baltimore. The focus of the national conversation stayed on the highly publicized instances of police brutality, and the resulting rallying cries from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Often ignored is that the rioting in cities like Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore were underscored by the economic decline from the loss of manufacturing Black residents of these cities have been facing for decades.

The closure of Baltimore’s Bethlehem Steel in 2003, following years of shedding jobs, lead to a massive disruption in the Baltimore area. (National Archives and Records Administration)

During the first half of the 20th century in Baltimore, Bethlehem Steel had established itself as the backbone of Sparrow Point. Black children throughout the city were bussed there to attend the Bragg School, one of the first public elementary schools for African-American children, between 1948 to 1964. The houses built were racially segregated, and training in skilled jobs was stilled reserved for Whites, but steel work still offered opportunities to Black families.

In the 1970s, the national trend in the decline of domestic manufacturing hit Bethlehem Steel hard, with a massive layoff of 10,000 workers between 1971 and 1975. The workforce continued to decline with only 8,000 workers by the late 1980s, and this loss was accompanied by lower wages and benefits. Baltimore lost 75 percent of its industrial employment between 1950 and 1995, over 100,000 manufacturing jobs. Steelwork was no longer a means for middle-class wages.

The loss of those jobs was accompanied by a loss of residents and businesses as the city saw the beginnings of White flight. Baltimore’s Black population doubled between 1950 and 1970 while White residents moved to the suburbs. Black residents were faced with discrimination, unemployment, poverty, housing deterioration and crime at disproportionate rates.

The loss of Bethlehem Steel set the stage for the economic disparity seen today. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Baltimore is at 6.9 percent, compared to 5 percent nationally. That rate for Black men between the ages of 20 and 24 was at 37 percent in 2013 compared to 10 percent of White men that age, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Just under 24 percent of Baltimore residents live in poverty.

Housing deterioration continues to be a problem; there are around 16,000 vacant buildings and 14,000 vacant lots in the city, according to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. As CNBC reports, some areas of the city have not been rebuilt since the riots in 1968. The city’s pipes haven’t seen necessary maintenance in years.

Most recent Baltimore police data shows there have been 252 homicides so far this year, as of Oct. 19., compared to 266 homicides last year to date. The city saw its highest per capita murder rate last year with 344 homicides.

Still, the prospect of future industrial endeavors could offer hope for Baltimore’s residents. The Port Covington development project has the potential of bringing 26,500 new jobs and $209 million in revenue, according to a study commissioned by Sagamore Development. Sparrows Point may also be revitalized with Under Armour’s plans to open a distribution warehouse and employ 1,000 people at what was once Bethlehem Steel.

Part of a series of articles and commentaries describing the impact the change in the manufacturing industry has had on the Black Community in major American cities.