Dante Washington shown in shadow of his old, semi-blighted neighborhood in east Baltimore, MD on July 17, 2014. He defied the statistics of a 25-year-long research project that was turned into a book "The Long Shadow" which centers on children growing up in poverty -stricken areas of Baltimore. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Inequality in Baltimore has been thrust into the national spotlight this week, with riots and civil unrest in that city following the funeral of Freddie Gray. This inequality has roots that stretch deep into the past. It's been exasperated by bad policy decisions in the present-day. And it makes itself felt in every aspect of life in the city, from the racial composition of neighborhoods to the number of empty houses standing in them.

For another illustration, let's look at a hypothetical case of two babies born on the same day this year in Baltimore. One is born in Roland Park, a wealthy neighborhood in the north of the city. The other is born just three miles away in Downtown/Seton Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

The Roland Park baby will most likely live to the age of 84, well above the U.S. average of 79. The Seton Hill baby, on the other hand, can expect to die 19 years earlier at the age of 65.  That's 14 years below the U.S. average. The average child born this year in Seton Hill will be dead before she can even begin to collect Social Security.

The only thing more astonishing than this 19-year gap in life expectancy is the short distance you have to travel in Baltimore to get from one extreme to another. Below, I've mapped the life expectancies for the city's neighborhoods.


Call it inequality of longevity. It's by no means unique to Baltimore -- all cities have their divide between the haves and the have-nots. But Baltimore stands out for the extent of its gap, as well as the proximity of the two extremes. The gap here is twice as large as in New York, for instance.

Another way of looking at it is to compare life expectancies in Baltimore to various countries. If Roland Park's life expectancy is similar to Japan's, then Downtown/Seton Hill would be closest to Yemen. Roland Park would be the 4th longest-living country in the world, while Seton Hill would be the 230th. Fourteen Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Eight are doing worse than Syria.

I've charted Baltimore's neighborhoods against the world's countries below, so you can compare for yourself.

If you want to understand what's happening in Baltimore, and to understand how to fix it, you need to know the social and economic context behind the anger and frustration many of the city's residents are feeling. Imagine being a child and knowing that you could expect to die 20 years earlier than another kid who simply had the good fortune of being born just a few miles up the road from you. For Baltimore's poorest, that's the reality they're living in.

baltimore-life

Correction: An earlier version of this story miscounted the number of Baltimore neighborhoods with lower life expectancies that North Korea. It is 14, not 15.