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The economic truth behind Trump’s attack on Baltimore

Over the weekend President Trump lashed out on Twitter, lobbing insults at the city of Baltimore and its representative in Congress, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who has been a vocal critic of conditions at the Southern border.

In his tweets, the president called the congressman’s district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” and declared that “no human being would want to live there.”

Backlash was swift, with Cummings himself tweeting back at Trump: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”

“It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents,” the tweet continued.

The Baltimore Sun, the city’s largest paper also came to the city’s defense in a piece from the editorial board, and slammed Trump for his tweets, calling him the “most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office,” and ending the Op-Ed: “Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

But how much truth lies behind the president’s pointed attack?

Congressional District 7

In his tweets, Trump often conflated Baltimore city with Congressional District 7, which Cummings has represented since 1996. District 7 encompasses west Baltimore city, as well as Ellicott City, Baldwin, Monkton, and Catonsville among others. As the Baltimore Sun editorial points out, the 7th district is home to Johns Hopkins University and hospital, the Social Security Administration, and Fort McHenry, a historical fort where Americans defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack from the British during the War of 1812.

According to the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) published by the U.S. Census, the median household income for those living in District 7 was $60,903. The national median household income was $57,652, according to the Census Bureau. However, poverty rates are higher in this area than the national average; in 2017 the national poverty rate was 12.3%. According to the ACS, 16.6% of people living in District 7 earned an income below the poverty line.

Just under 20% of those living in the district were also receiving some type of food assistance while an additional 4% received cash assistance. But those aren’t the only issues. Baltimore is plagued by high levels of crime and urban blight.

The city has the highest homicide rate for a city of its size (500,000 residents and more), So far this year, there have been 165 homicides, according to the Baltimore City Police Department. Roughly 17,000 lots sit vacant in the city, lowering property values and attracting crime.

Baltimore is hardly alone

But if these facts paint a bleak portrait of the city, it’s a story that might feel familiar to residents in cities and towns all across the United States. Baltimore, and indeed parts of Rep. Cummings’ 7th district are not the only areas to struggle with crime, poverty, urban blight, and income inequality.

Metro areas like Fayetteville, N.C., El Paso, Texas, and Gainesville, Fla., are some of the poorest cities in America, with median household income under $45,000 a year. And while only some 40% of adults living in Maryland’s 7th District boast a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 20%-30% of those living in many of America’s poorest cities have a college degree.

Though Baltimore’s crime statistics are distressingly high, they are not the worst in the country. St. Louis holds this dubious honor; and according to an analysis from the Death Penalty Information Center, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada all have higher homicide rates than Maryland.

But what about the rats?

According to pest control company Orkin, Chicago is home to the most rats, followed by Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Baltimore ranks ninth on their list.

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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