Detroit has become more than just a city, it’s become a symbol of the decline in America’s economy, particularly our manufacturing. It was once the richest and fastest growing city in the country, with a population only outdone by New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and we all know what happened since then. But because it’s now the symbol of American decline, it attracts a lot of people who both want to document the decline, and those who want to speculate about it’s future. The Awl had and excellent article talking about these two narratives that is well worth the read.
We hear so much about Detroit’s decline and rebirth around here that it almost feels like a joke to post something else about it, but I wanted to highlight a new documentary that is comparing Detroit to Lodz, Poland, another city that was dependent upon manufacturing, and had to deal with similar situations when those jobs left. It looks pretty interesting, and my friend Dina got her music used in the preview, so I thought I’d share it.
It looks like the film will be highlighting the artistic revival in Detroit, which seems to be what people keep talking about, and for good reason. Not only is there a lot of really interesting stuff happening, but it may be our best shot. After all, it seems to be working for Grand Rapids.
The Census Bureau released their report on poverty and income. It’s grim. Poverty as a nation is up to 15.1%, which when you break it down means that one in every six people is extremely poor. Poverty is even worse here in Michigan at 16.2% and REALLY bad for children in Michigan, where 23.5% of kids are under the poverty level statewide and in Detroit 53.6%.
And whenever you look at the poverty level it’s important to know that the figure was originally based off of food costs. Since it was created in the 1950s, most living expenses like housing and health care have increased much more than food, but we still measure it the same way. Here is a helpful image which demonstrates just how much the cost of health care has increased compared to food.
As you can see, we have an incredibly outdated method for seeing how many people are actually living in poverty. But the news doesn’t get any better for poor people, especially in Michigan. Next weekend, thousands of people will start losing their cash assistance, and food stamps has just been severely cut forcing about 15,000 people to lose some level of help in buying food.
You might ask, why has poverty increased so much when our economy is now so much bigger than it was in the 1950s? If there is so much more money, where is it? That is an excellent question that for some reason no one in the news media bothers to ask. The Census Bureau’s report has some helpful information on that as well.
As you can see, yearly income for the poor has risen only $2,600 over 45 years, and if you ask me, that’s a pretty lousy raise. Income for the middle class has risen even less, but for the top 10% it’s jumped over $50,000. That jump is even higher when you look at the top 5% and 1%.
When we cut services for the poor and continue tax cuts for the rich we are literally taking money out of the pockets of the neediest amount us and handing it to billionaires. It’s completely inhumane, yet to suggest that we don’t continue this reverse Robin Hood mentality is said to be committing class warfare. This proves to me that conservatives in this country don’t know what real class warfare is, and if they are going to accuse us of it just for stating facts we may as well actually wage it.
I’m incredibly thankful that some people in New York and Chicago are taking to the streets for the Occupy Wallstreet movement. More and more I believe that civil disobedience is going to be the only thing that creates some real change. And these peaceful protesters are already facing the kind of violent resistance you would expect from people trying to protect the wealthy. Here is a clip posted today of women who are standing still being caged in and maced by police.
I hope this leads more people to action. The only way our politicians will start putting people ahead of profits is if we demand it of them.
I have to take a break from politics for tonight and point out something really fantastic coming out of Detroit.
Zoos of Berlin have released their most creative and inspiring recording to date. And if you have followed the Detroit quartet at all you know that is really saying something. It’s reminiscent of Byrne/Eno collaborations, and the only problem with this EP is that it’s not longer. All the tracks are fantastic, but the opener “Haven’t Eyes” is a frontrunner for my favorite track of the year. But I’m holding out for the new Prussia album before making any definitive statements.
Oh yeah, and if you live in Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area, they will be playing with two other great bands at the Blind Pig on September 3rd. Hope to see you there.
So, if you don’t know, I work at an agency that helps people in a housing crisis, and often times people who are homeless. Today at a meeting we discussed a probable increase in the number of people coming through our doors due to a law that the state passed almost four years ago. Here’s the pertinent part.
The measure to limit Michigan welfare recipients to four years of cash assistance, with several exceptions, starting in October 2007. The measure also sets up penalties for recipients who dont comply with work or educational requirements. Recipients could apply for a fifth year of cash assistance if they havent been sanctioned and the job market is down.
So this October, month by month, people all across Michigan will be losing cash assistance that they have depended on for years. And unless all these people find jobs, which if you live in Michigan you know is not an easy thing to do no matter what your skill level, will probably end up in a housing crisis and many of them will probably end up homeless.
You put that together with a report that the Detroit Free Press just did on how you can’t live on minimum wage, and it looks more and more like Michigan is heading for a post-apocalyptic-Beyond Thunderdome kind of scenario.
I just hope that if we end up with a hero, we can find someone other than Mel Gibson.
It’s crazy to me what can pass as good news in Michigan. From the Detroit News.
Comerica Inc. Chief Economist Dana Johnson said Friday: “With its manufacturing sector leading the way, Michigan is repeating the historical pattern of having a stronger recovery than the nation after having a much worse downturn.”
…Michigan, meanwhile, added 71,000 jobs last year. That’s the first sustained job gain the state has had in the past decade, said Sophia Koropeckyj, a managing director at Moody’s Analytics. Michigan’s unemployment rate has plummeted from 13.5 percent to 10.4 percent, the biggest drop in the nation.
That’s right, we pulled out of last place all the way up to 5th from the bottom. Now only 1 in 10 people are unemployed. The job increase is good news, I just can’t imagine another state being so ecstatic about one year of growth. And while it’s good news that our unemployment rate is declining, there’s a catch.
As the article above states, half of that decline in the unemployment rate is only because so many people have left Michigan. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are employed, just that they decided to live somewhere else. In fact Detroit lost a quarter of it’s population in the last decade. Maybe that’s why Snyder is cutting unemployment benefits down to 20 weeks, the lowest in the country. If all the unemployed people leave the state because they give up, are evicted, or starving, the rate will drop. Yippee.
I’m a little late to the game in writing about what the Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has done, but I still think it’s worth noting. First Snyder proposed a budget that makes huge cuts in the funding cities recieve from the state. Now, a bill is being passed that will give the Governor and his administration the power to declare that any city in Michigan is financial emergency.
Once he has declared emergency (that he is helping to create) he will appoint an Emergency Financial Manager for the city, and that person can do a whole host of things like break contracts that were bargained for by employees, absolve entire city services like water, fire, and security, and contract them out to private companies, and get this, they can dismiss elected officials with no plans for refilling those positions or no vote.
It seems pretty pointless to bargain or vote if later someone can just come in and null the entire thing if they feel like it.
Wisconsin got a lot of attention because Walker came out in the open and said that he was going to removed collective bargaining rights. Snyder is on the other hand giving himself the power to do it later, if necessary. Of course he is the one who decides if it’s necessary. It’s even more overreaching than the Wisconsin bill, but he makes the cities do his dirty work for him. It’s all incredibly sneaky.
Snyder ran on a platform of strong urban core cities and his first two moves in office have been to rip cities of their urban core.
Should I be commenting on the slimming margin of hope in Egypt, but I can’t bring myself to.
So instead I’ll talk about a commercial that is getting quite a bit of buzz, especially here in Michigan. Now, I might be alone in this, and judging by the response I’m seeing on the Internet today, I think I just might be. People I respect from The New Republic’s Jonanathan Chait to Ypsilanti’s own Mark Maynard, it seems everyone loved it, but I really couldn’t stand this Detroit commercial fro Chrysler in last night’s Superbowl.
The first reason I hated it is a little superficial. I do not in any way care for Eminem. He can rhyme, but I think his music is pretty awful, and it’s getting worse and worse, and it pains me to see him getting paid tons of money to stand in front of a camera and look angry. As though we didn’t get enough of that during 8 Mile. But having him star in this spot is really just the icing on the cake for me.
The main problem I have with this commercial is that it is a great example for an issue I’ve had for a long time. I grew up near Buffalo, but moved to Michigan over 10 years ago, and I have yet to understand the intense, sometimes violent loyalty (yes there was a time when driving a Honda downtown would get your windows smashed in) that so many people in this area have to corporations that have made it a routine to screw us over. The relationship between the automakers and Detroit is a strange one, and at times it often reminds me of a domestic violence victim who refuses to leave or stop loving their abuser. Chrysler was one reasons Detroit went “to hell and back” and now it’s trying to cash in on it’s revival. The irony would make me laugh if it didn’t make me sick.
People seem to be talking about this spot as though this is some altruistic move on the part of the auto giant. I cannot stress this enough, they only did this to make money. In spite of a lot of negative press, there has been a large amount of buzz around Detroit as a place of possibility. From Slows, to the Heidelberg Project, the urban farming, to Eastern Market, to the redevelopment of Corktown and Midtown, Detroit is on the way up, and now Chrysler all of a sudden seems to care. Never mind all the plant closings. Never mind moving our jobs overseas. Never mind.
There are lots of reasons to love Detroit, but Chysler isn’t one of them. Maybe I’m wrong and this will make people think of Detroit as something other than a city that has a lot of empty buildings and that used to make cars. But while many have commented that they liked seeing Chrysler embrace Detroit, I think that if there is one thing that Detroit needs it is to distance itself from corporations like Chrysler, not be embraced by them.