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Target Store Closings Show Limits of Pledge to Black Communities

BALTIMORE — When Target announced that it was opening a store in Mondawmin, a predominantly Black neighborhood in this city struggling with crime and poverty, it seemed like a ticket to a turnaround.

And from the start, it was a practical success and a point of community pride. The store, which opened in 2008, carried groceries, operated a pharmacy and had a Starbucks cafe, the only one in this part of Baltimore’s west side.

People came from across the city to shop there, helping to soften the Mondawmin area’s reputation for crime and the looting that followed protests over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in city police custody. As an employer, Target seemed to cater to the community’s needs, making a point of hiring Black men and providing an office in the store for a social worker to support the staff. Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, was known to shop there.

But in February 2018, with almost no warning or explanation, Target closed the store.

Residents, especially those without cars, lost a convenient place to shop for quality goods. And a marker of the community’s self-worth was suddenly taken away.

shut two stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side as the company made plans to build a new store on the wealthier and mostly white North Side.

according to local legend, visited the property in the 19th century and observed the area’s bountiful cornfields. Mondawmin is derived from a Native American phrase for “spirit of corn.”

In the 1950s, the property was sold to a real estate developer, who turned the rural lot into the city’s first shopping mall.

The Mondawmin Mall featured a Sears, a five-and-dime, and eventually an indoor fountain and spiral staircase, advertised as the “seventh wonder of Baltimore,’’ according to Salvatore Amadeo, an amateur historian who makes YouTube documentaries about malls, including a segment on Mondawmin.

When the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 sparked protests across Baltimore and caused “white flight” to the suburbs, the mall struggled. Over time, it ceased to be a big draw for shoppers outside the area.

The stores became more focused on Black fashion and neighborhood services. A large barbershop occupies the mall’s bottom floor, and there is an agency that helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs.

a forceful statement, promising to reopen one of its stores in Minneapolis damaged in the protests against police violence.

“The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Mr. Cornell said in the statement. “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts. As a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing.”

One of the names on that “too-long list” is Freddie Gray. Mr. Gray was from Baltimore’s west side and was arrested a few blocks from the Mondawmin Mall in April 2015 for possessing a knife.

prosecutors described as a “rough ride,” his spinal cord was 80 percent severed.

One of the first big waves of protests over his death occurred at the Mondawmin Mall. Protesters began throwing rocks at police officers, and the mall was looted. Some students from Frederick Douglass High School, across from the mall and the alma mater of the civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, were caught up in the melee.

Target was spared serious damage. But for a time, many shoppers, both Black and white, stayed away from the store, recalled Mr. Johnson, who now works for the Postal Service.

“Mondawmin already had a bad rap with out-of-towners,” he said.

Shoppers eventually returned to the Target in Mondawmin, he said. But he noticed that the city’s other Target store, which had opened in a trendy area near the harbor in 2013, was getting more popular.

In November 2017, Mr. Mosby, then a state lawmaker, got a call from a resident whose family worked at the store: The Target in Mondawmin was shutting its doors in a few months. “I thought it was a just a rumor at first,” Mr. Mosby said.

Some residents and neighborhood leaders were told that the store struggled with high rates of theft, known in the retail industry as “shrinkage.” But Mr. Ali, the store’s former manager, said, “That was untrue,” at least while he worked there. The store met its profit and shrinkage goals during his four years as manager, which ended in 2012, years before the store closed.

Still, Mr. Ali, now the executive director of a youth mentoring group, acknowledged challenges that he said were unique to a store in a “hyper-urban area.”

A significant amount of inventory was once damaged in a fire in a storage area next to the store, and the company had to spend $30,000 a month for an armed Baltimore police officer to keep watch, he said.

There may have been additional considerations. “I think what happened after Freddie Gray spooked Target,” Mr. Ali said.

Other national chains reacted differently. TGI Fridays stuck with its plans to open a restaurant at the Mondawmin Mall, months after the protests. The restaurant remains one of the neighborhood’s only free-standing, sit-down chain restaurants.

Mr. Mosby and other officials tried to negotiate with Target to keep the store open, but the company said its mind was already made up.

“They weren’t interested in talking to us,” Mr. Mosby said. “They wouldn’t budge.”

The temperature gauge outside Pastor Lance’s car registered 103 degrees as he drove through Greater Mondawmin and its surrounding neighborhoods. He was wearing a white shirt emblazoned with his church’s logo — a group of people, of all races and backgrounds, walking toward the sun, holding hands.

A Baltimore native, Pastor Lance used to work as a computer programmer at Verizon. He made “lots of money,” he said. “But I didn’t feel fulfilled.”

He became a pastor and took over a nonprofit company that develops park space and playgrounds and hosts a summer camp for schoolchildren with a garden surrounded by a meadow near the mall.

“But some days, I wonder if I made a mistake,” he said. “It’s great to have a park, but if you don’t have a good job, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy a park.”

He drove along a street with liquor stores and houses with boarded-up windows. A woman tried to flag him down for a ride. But the poverty he saw was not what made him most upset.

It was when Pastor Lance steered through an enclave of big houses and immaculate lawns, only a short distance away, that the anger rose in his voice.

“You are telling me that these people wouldn’t shop at Target for lawn furniture or school supplies,” he said. “I am not trying to gloss over the problems, but there is also wealth here.”

“If shrinkage was a problem, hire more security guards or use technology to stop people from stealing,” he added.

He circled back to the Mondawmin Mall, where families ducked into the air conditioning for a bubble tea or an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. He drove past the TGI Fridays and then past the Target, its windows still covered in plywood and the trees in the parking lot looking withered and pathetic.

Pastor Lance refused to accept that a Target could not succeed here.

“If you are really interested in equity and justice,” he said, “figure out how to make that store work.”

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The Luckiest Workers in America? Teenagers.

Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families.

The big pop in pay and perks for Kennywood’s seasonal work force, where nearly half of employees are under 18, echoes what is happening around the country as employers scramble to hire waiters, receptionists and other service workers to satisfy surging demand as the economy reopens.

For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.

As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.

It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.

antique roller coaster and snapping people into paddle boats when she thought it paid $9 — so when she found out the park was lifting pay to $13 an hour, she was thrilled.

“I love it,” she said. She doesn’t even mind having to walk backward on the carousel to check that everyone is riding safely, though it can be disorienting. “After you see the little kids and they give you high-fives, it doesn’t matter at all.”

It’s not just Kennywood paying up. Small businesses in a database compiled by the payroll platform Gusto have been raising teen wages in service sector jobs in recent months, said Luke Pardue, an economist at the company. Teens took a hit at the onset of the pandemic but got back to their pre-coronavirus wage levels in March 2021 and have spent the first part of May seeing their wages accelerate above that.

raised the starting pay to $10 an hour and dropped the minimum age for applicants from 16 years old to 15. It seems to have worked: More teenagers applied and the city has started interviewing candidates for the open positions.

“Between 2020 and 2021, it seems like a lot of the retail starting salaries really jumped up, and we just kind of had to follow suit if we wanted to be competitive and get qualified applicants,” said Trace Stevens, the city’s director of parks and recreation.

Apps for Apps” deal in which applicants who were interviewed received a free appetizer voucher. Restaurants and gas stations across the country are offering signing bonuses.

But the perks and better pay may not reach everyone. White teens lost employment heavily at the beginning of the pandemic, and they’ve led the gains in 2021, even as Black teens have added comparatively few and Hispanic teens actually lost jobs. That’s continuing a long-running disparity in which white teens work in much greater numbers, and the gap could worsen if the current trajectory continues.

More limited access to transportation is one factor that may hold minority teens back from work, Ms. Sasser Modestino said. Plus, while places like Cape Cod and suburban neighborhoods begin to boom, some urban centers with public transit remain short on foot traffic, which may be disadvantaging teens who live in cities.

“We haven’t seen the demand yet,” said Joseph McLaughlin, research and evaluation director at the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps to place students into paid internships and helps others to apply to private employers, like grocery stores.

Ms. Sasser Modestino’s research has found that the long-running decline in teen work has partly come from a shift toward college prep and internships, but that many teens still need and want jobs for economic reasons. Yet the types of jobs teens have traditionally held have dwindled — Blockbuster gigs are a thing of the past — and older workers increasingly fill them.

Teenagers who are benefiting now may not be able to count on a favorable labor market for the long haul, said Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“There may be what will surely be a brief positive effect, as young people can move into a lot of jobs where adults have receded for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s going to be temporary, because we always take care of the adults first.”

Educators have voiced a different concern: That today’s plentiful and prosperous teen jobs might be distracting students from their studies.

When in-class education restarted last August at Torrington High School, which serves 330 students in a small city in Wyoming, principal Chase Christensen found that about 10 of his older students weren’t returning. They had taken full-time jobs, including working night shifts at a nursing home and working at a gravel pit, and were reluctant to give up the money. Five have since dropped out of or failed to complete high school.

“They had gotten used to the pay of a full-time worker,” Mr. Christensen said. “They’re getting jobs that usually high schoolers don’t get.”

If better job prospects in the near term overtake teenagers’ plans for additional education or training, that could also spell trouble. Economic research consistently finds that those who manage to get through additional training have better-paying careers.

Still, Ms. Sasser Modestino pointed out that a lot of the hiring happening now was for summer jobs, which have less chance of interfering with school. And there may be upsides. For people like Ms. Bailley, it means an opportunity to save for textbooks and tuition down the road. She’d like to go to community college to complete prerequisites, and then pursue an engineering degree.

“I’ve always been interested in robots, I love programming and coding,” she said, explaining that learning how roller coasters work lines up with her academic interests.

Shaylah Bentley, 18 and a new season pass taker at Kennywood, said the higher-than-expected wage she’s earning will allow her to decorate her dorm room at Slippery Rock University. She’s a rising sophomore this year, studying exercise science.

“I wanted to save up money for school and expenses,” she said. “And have something to do this summer.”

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In the Market for a 529 College Savings Plan? Shop Around

The outcome could have been different, however, if the error had occurred during a downturn, said Madeline Hume, a Morningstar analyst. She advised being familiar with your plan’s performance, so you can gauge if returns seem out of the ordinary, and paying attention when your plan notifies you of changes. “It’s important to keep aware of what communications are coming out,” she said.

The firm rates 529 plans on factors like fees, investment options and plan oversight, and most are rated gold, silver or bronze, indicating they offer a net benefit to investors. However, eight plans received “negative” ratings, mostly because of excessive fees.

Here are some questions and answers about 529 saving plans:

What college expenses can 529 funds be used for?

Savings in a 529 can be used to pay college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, supplies and required equipment.

Can I use 529 funds to pay student loans?

Yes. Under a law passed in 2019, up to $10,000 from a 529 account can be used to repay a beneficiary’s student loans. Another $10,000 each can be used to repay student loans borrowed by the beneficiary’s siblings.

Can grandparents save in a 529 account for a grandchild?

Yes — and an upcoming change to an important financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should help to make that more attractive. Currently, contributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed cash support to the student, which can reduce eligibility for financial aid, said the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. An updated FAFSA, however, will eliminate the question about cash support, he said, so distributions from grandparent-owned 529s will no longer be included on the form. The change is expected to take place with the FAFSA available in late 2022, for the 2023-24 academic year.

The change, however, does not affect a different student aid form, the CSS Profile, which is required by many higher-cost private colleges, Mr. Kantrowitz said.

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