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Detroit and the Economy
October 11, 2009 3:50 PM   Subscribe

Last week in Detroit, where unemployment is close to 30%, one third of all households are in poverty, and whole neighborhoods have been abandoned, chaos ensued as an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people lined up in the hopes of getting federal aid. 65,000 applications were taken for a new program that will fund only 3,500 people (via).
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 (83 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Last week in Louisville, where things are nowhere near as bad as Detroit, GE got 10,000 applications for 90 jobs.
posted by dilettante at 3:58 PM on October 11, 2009


We work in a resort town where a year ago it could take weeks to find anyone with matching skills for a position, now we get nearly 100 applicants just for a dishwasher position.
posted by furtive at 4:11 PM on October 11, 2009


But at least the bankers, stockbrokers, speculators and insurance industry executives can still affor to wipe their asses with wads of hundred-dollar bills, and THAT's why capitalism is GREAT!
posted by briank at 4:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [40 favorites]


Kelli Phillips tries to make the numbers work: $650 a month for rent, $300 to $500 a month to heat her old house, plus food for her and her boys, ages 6 and 17.

Her heating costs are nearly as much as her rent. Maybe the city could put some folks back to work insulating houses in the city.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:26 PM on October 11, 2009 [14 favorites]


This is depressing as hell.
posted by blucevalo at 4:29 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't articulate exactly why, but the tenor of the articles and video strike me the wrong way. The video was the opposite of chaos; people were sleeping while they waited. Sorry for the vague throwaway comment, hopefully someone else sensed what I did and I can just favorite their comment.
posted by desjardins at 4:32 PM on October 11, 2009


Detroit is apparently not too big to fail.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:35 PM on October 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


yr right, des. mobs don't wait calmly in line.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:47 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But at least the bankers, stockbrokers, speculators and insurance industry executives can still afford to wipe their asses with wads of hundred-dollar bills

Yes, yes indeed.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 4:47 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ah, Detroit: never so deep in the whole that they won't stop asking for more shovels. It's not like there aren't great examples of cities that are growing and thriving Detroit could emulate. Bangalore may be hoping to much, and Shenzen a bit too tough a pill to swallow, but, heck, Dallas would be a fine start.
posted by MattD at 4:49 PM on October 11, 2009


whole = hole. although "whole" might capture more of it, somehow...
posted by MattD at 4:49 PM on October 11, 2009


Metafilter: never so deep in the whole
posted by billysumday at 4:52 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just moved to northern Virginia from Detroit. Whenever I hear someone around here talking about how bad the economy is, its all I can do not to laugh in their face.
posted by ish__ at 5:03 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the moon.
posted by VicNebulous at 5:07 PM on October 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Get with the program. The Moon did this to us. We are just showing the Moon we mean business, it can't just screw with our markets like it can with the ocean. No, the Moon needs to be taught a lesson, otherwise it just won't stop. Yesterday, it was the oceans, today, it's the markets, if we do nothing, then tomorrow, it will be our children!! War against the moon is the only option.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:13 PM on October 11, 2009 [16 favorites]


I just moved back to Detroit from NYC. It's tough as nails to find a job around here and things are depressing as fuck. But oddly I am more optimistic than ever about this city; I believe the economic and physical void here will be filled by beautiful and beneficial things. Granted, I'm staying at my folks' place, and as such I have a certain distance from the impending homelessness of my fellow citizens who were lined up at Cobo. But there seems to be a lot of opportunity here as far as cheap land and fixer-upper housing. And finally it seems like people are looking for answers other than "give GM/Ford/Chrysler $300 mil to tear down a neighborhood and build another largely mechanized factory".

Of course, like a Lions lead in the 4th quarter, there's still plenty of time for me to be proved wrong.
posted by ofthestrait at 5:18 PM on October 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Maybe the city could put some folks back to work insulating houses in the city.

Actually this a big problem in the region. The city worker-to-resident ratio in Detroit is off the charts (in that it is very low). The City of Detroit is the #1 employer in the city of Detroit. Our business-background mayor Dave Bing recognizes this and I think he'll make the tough decisions re: city unions and city jobs (namely, cut them drastically), and he'll probably be voted out of office for it, but its totally necessary and I hope he does the right thing. He had an op-ed about it in the Free Press today:

I am not a politician. I did not take this job to do anything more than to help a city that I have supported for more than half of my life. I am aware of and sensitive to the needs and challenges of a diverse community. Yet, if I fail to do what I know will have short-term pain but be best in the long run, then I have failed those who put their faith in my leadership. If I don't, I will have failed, but so, ultimately, will the city.
posted by ofthestrait at 5:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


You know what, The Light Fantastic's comment up-thread about insulation is absolutely perfectly one hundred percent dead on right. Right now we have a ton of people out of work, no capitalists willing to put them to work, and infrastructure that's wretched from top to bottom, from bridges to basic housing stock — this applies to the United States as a whole, but Southeast Michigan especially. Government, and here I mean federal government, since our state governments are hamstrung to idiotic anti-deficit requirements — should be paying all those out of work people to be fixing up our frankly shitty infrastructure — ever compare the roads in Ontario and Michigan? — and they should be borrowing whatever it takes to pay for it. People, ordinary people who actually spend money, will actually have money to spend, which eventually will draw those timid and ever-so-important capitalists out of their shells. And in the meantime, maybe we won't have to waste money on heating badly-insulated houses (and yeah, the gigantic old houses in Detroit won't ever be strictly cheap to heat, but there's ways to make it cheaper) or fixing cars that are slowly being shaken to death by Michigan roads, and, hey, while we're at it we could throw some money at the wretchedly underfunded schools... christ, people. Basic Keynesianism! It's not new! And it works!

</rant>
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:42 PM on October 11, 2009 [25 favorites]


Get with the program. The Moon did this to us. We are just showing the Moon we mean business, it can't just screw with our markets like it can with the ocean. No, the Moon needs to be taught a lesson, otherwise it just won't stop. Yesterday, it was the oceans, today, it's the markets, if we do nothing, then tomorrow, it will be our children!! War against the moon is the only option.

You know what? Why don't we just call it what it is: You only want the moon for its water. The moon never attacked us. That was MARS.

DIE FOR SPACE WATER SUCKER
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:50 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the moon.

Yes, by all means, let's immediately stop doing all R&D because lots of people were stupid about mortgages and car companies made crap products. Much better to spend money bailing out banks that don't need bailing or paying for unwinnable wars in the Middle East. R&D wouldn't do a thing to help fix the economy.
posted by Zinger at 5:57 PM on October 11, 2009 [27 favorites]


Well, yeah, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the Moon, but NASA did the analysis and it would've cost TWO billion to crash Detroit into the Moon.
posted by jamstigator at 5:58 PM on October 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


people were stupid about mortgages victims of predatory lending practices

FTFY
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:01 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


My honest thought, whenever I visit Detroit or read a piece like this, is to wonder why so many people are still there?

Michigan (never mind Detroit, which is worse off than the rest of the state) is at position number 51 on the BLS unemployment rankings, with something like 15% official unemployment. And not only are there no jobs, but it is a really expensive place to live. $500 a month to heat a house? Are you shitting me? Come out west where we have subsidized electrical power and milder winters, and enjoy the feeling of that heating bill being cut by a factor of five or more.

My point isn't to blame the poor, or blame those affected by industrial dislocations, lying politicians, and all the other ills of the upper midwest. But in a country where the national mythology is all about movement (immigration, manifest destiny, blah blah), I find it fascinating how few people are actually willing to move, regardless of how compelling the economics are.
posted by Forktine at 6:03 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Where out west are the jobs? I say that as a person living in Baltimore which supposedly has one of the best job markets right now in the US. Keep in mind a bar a few blocks from me was hiring barbacks recently and got 400 applications.
posted by josher71 at 6:13 PM on October 11, 2009


I think one issue is that it's cheaper this month to pay that heating bill than it is to pay to move. (You have to rent a truck, pay first and last on a new place, etc.) Yes, it's cheaper to move long-term, but if you don't have any money to save this month after you pay your heating bill, you're never going to be able to afford to move.
posted by ifandonlyif at 6:17 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


people were stupid about mortgages victims of predatory lending practices

By people I meant both the mortgagees and the people selling the mortgages. Were there lots of shady products out there? Yes. Were there lots of average people also looking to cash in by buying way more than they could afford, either for one house, or for several properties they intended to flip? Yes. Do I think the people selling the bad products should be held accountable whether the consumer should have known better or not? Again, yes.

But that's a whole 'nother argument, and one that's likely been plate-of-beans'd to bits on here already. The value of R&D is the main point above.
posted by Zinger at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2009


My guess for why people stay is that moving with no money to where no one you know lives is a recipe for disaster. That, and maybe people like living near their friends and families and homes and all that good stuff.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Sam Kinison School of Ecomonics:
You see what this is, huh-huh? This is saaaaand. Yeah ... sand. Nothing grows here. You know what it’s going to be a hundred years from now? It's still going to be sand. NOTHING GROWS HERE! YOU LIVE IN A FUKING DESERT! MOVE!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Forktine: I find it fascinating how few people are actually willing to move, regardless of how compelling the economics are.

I'm not sure you're au fait with the economics of moving. If you are struggling to make rent and eat in the same month, gathering first, last and a security deposit is about as achievable as becoming America's next top model. Don't forget to factor in local grandparents and family members who provide free childcare for working families, and the very real issue of a stop gap in social welfare payments when moving from state to state for unemployed families, and another state might as well be the moon.

What one is willing to do and what one is able to do are not always the same thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [39 favorites]


See, this is what happens when OCP gets involved. Delta City was a pipe dream from day one. Down with the privatization of America's cities!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


By the way, Google's Public Data is a fascinating tool to use to see how unemployment rates compare across the country. (Just keep in mind this data isn't seasonally adjusted and doesn't, as far as I know, keep track of the discouraged or underemployed.)
posted by ifandonlyif at 6:23 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Forktine: the population of Detroit has been rapidly shrinking for some time now, hence the 12,000 or so abandoned homes.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:25 PM on October 11, 2009


I've been fortunate in this recession, no real problems. In fact, I've never done better. (I feel a little guilty about that, to be honest.) I look around me and see lotsa people suffering. I've helped out friends and family as best I can, but I've also started helping strangers, as a kind of pay-it-forward kinda thing. Like, I noticed a family in the car behind me at the local Taco Bell drive-thru, and their car was a piece of junk and they looked pretty poor, so I gave the cashier an extra twenty and told him to use it toward the next person's bill and if any leftover, the one after that, until gone. In Wal-Mart, I paid a couple times that much for the lady ahead of me, who gave me a disbelieving suspicious look at first but then was very thankful. And so on, a few more instances like that. I tried to keep my local Quiznos and Subway going too, by eating a lot of their premium subs, but alas, both of 'em went kaput.

Anyone else doing WELL out there, and trying to do the same thing? (E.g., spread your good fortune to strangers who clearly aren't doing too hot.) I'm sure the little I've done doesn't make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but if enough people who AREN'T suffering reach out with a little targeted generosity, it probably would make at least a little difference in the general morale, maybe keep a kid or two from going hungry for an extra day or so.
posted by jamstigator at 6:26 PM on October 11, 2009 [29 favorites]


jamstigator, good on ya, mate.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 6:34 PM on October 11, 2009


Too right about the infrastructure. Even without the benefit of getting people employed, our infrastructure is dieing, and in some places already dead. The last two decades have seen as much scientific and technological discovery as the century preceding them, and yet we've done very little in implementing our new knowledge on a wide scale. Our power-grid is an analog dinosaur powered by ancient fuel sources, our bridges and roads are almost universally below standard, both of which cost billions in lost productivity.
posted by karmiolz at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find it fascinating how few people are actually willing to move, regardless of how compelling the economics are.

It takes resources to move - money or a network of people. Those thousands lined up in Detroit obviously are lacking in one of those areas. Anyone who has moved anywhere knows it sucks up time and money. Even more problems for a family with kids or older members to care for.

Michigan (never mind Detroit, which is worse off than the rest of the state) is at position number 51 on the BLS unemployment rankings, with something like 15% official unemployment

California is #47 on that list, which is scary. If its so bad here, why are people still here? They should move, since it's all about movement. My state is being run into the ground, but I can't just leave. Like those people in Detroit, I don't have the resources. I'm the perfect demographic to be mobile, but my friends sure aren't gonna love me surfing their couches while I try to compete against the locals for jobs.

And I at least where I live, heating costs are low, but cost of living is high.
posted by shinyshiny at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I find it fascinating how few people are actually willing to move, regardless of how compelling the economics are.

I'd bet that a fair number of Detroit residents love their city, feel loyalty to it and don't want to have to move. It's their home town after all.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But at least the bankers, stockbrokers, speculators and insurance industry executives can still affor to wipe their asses with wads of hundred-dollar bills, and THAT's why capitalism is GREAT!

That's not capitalism; that's corporatism. A capitalism would have let the bad players fail and taken the fallout from it, so that at least they wouldn't still be bleeding us dry.

Don't make the mistake of tying America's failures to capitalism's, because we haven't been actually capitalist in decades. We're a combination of socialist and capitalist. We combine the worst features of both. The capitalists keep all the profits, while society takes all the losses.
posted by Malor at 6:54 PM on October 11, 2009 [22 favorites]


Her heating costs are nearly as much as her rent. Maybe the city could put some folks back to work insulating houses in the city.

Communism!
posted by rodgerd at 6:56 PM on October 11, 2009


I will always love Detroit the way you love a bastard stepchild. It's the realest, grimiest, down and dirty city in the country.

I could go on and on about all the great things about this city, but I'll just say this: No one from Detroit could have ever come up with something as ridiculous as a credit default swap or selling insurance on mortgages. No - this is a town that remembers what made America a great country - middle class people making REAL things and SELLING them. Too bad everyone forgot that fact and decided we could have a whole economy based around "information" and "services."

*stepping off soapbox now*

Time is doing a year long project in the city called Assignment Detroit, and its worth checking out.

And this is one of my favorite pizza reviews ever: They Serve Pizza in Hell
posted by Acromion at 7:07 PM on October 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


My understanding is that Michigan law makes it substantially impossible for Detroit to annex its surrounding counties to rebuild its tax base, but has anyone considered just invading them?
posted by enn at 7:08 PM on October 11, 2009


Anyone else doing WELL out there, and trying to do the same thing?

A short while ago I was in a Starbucks when the guy in front of me (everyday dude, worked construction) forgot his wallet. I ended up buying the guy coffee and had a 10 minute conversation about what he does (general contracting) and how he saw the market for his work. I do it for the look. Like when I gave some girl a $5 tip for making the perfect cappucchino. When I worked behind the counter, some guy did the same for me and to this day, I still remember how good I felt afterward. It really is the unexpected acts of kindness that are the best. FWIW, I'm not sure how *well* I'm doing. You don't need to be successful to be kind.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:14 PM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oops, forgot to close the tag.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:15 PM on October 11, 2009


Thank you for that clarification, Malor - it's the God's truth about the difference between capitalism and corporatism: socialized risk, privatized profit.

And before anyone gets the chance to jump on this one: BOTH political parties are horribly, horribly indebted to the corporatist system, just to different corporatists.
posted by tgrundke at 7:22 PM on October 11, 2009


That's not capitalism; that's corporatism....we haven't been actually capitalist in decades. We're a combination of socialist and capitalist. We combine the worst features of both. The capitalists keep all the profits, while society takes all the losses.

I stand corrected....damned back brace...
posted by briank at 7:23 PM on October 11, 2009


No one from Detroit could have ever come up with something as ridiculous as a credit default swap or selling insurance on mortgages.

Nope. Just Edsels and Escalades, Pintos, Corvairs and Vegas. Decade after decade, after decade.
posted by carping demon at 9:05 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


For a long while (actually, since I moved away from Detroit) I've been skeptical of the idea that grimy or hard are synonymous with "real" — I don't know why it bothers me, but nevertheless it feels off to think that our "authentic" selves are the ones that manifest when we're most thoroughly screwed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Forktine: the population of Detroit has been rapidly shrinking for some time now, hence the 12,000 or so abandoned homes.

It's the 600,000 or so people who are still there that kind of amaze me -- the half that have left I understand.

I'd bet that a fair number of Detroit residents love their city, feel loyalty to it and don't want to have to move. It's their home town after all.

Yeah, that's what I find fascinating. You see this everywhere that is really tough and is a source of out-migration (eg Detroit, Oaxaca, Mali, etc, or historically in Ireland, etc) -- sure, some people leave, but most stay. You can have an honest to goodness famine, and the majority of people will hunker down and starve in the place they know and love rather than leave. I'm not criticizing -- it's their choice; I just find it an interesting one.

And it's particularly fascinating when you think about how the population of Detroit was built through immigration (both from Europe and elsewhere in the US), largely in the last 80 or 100 years. So it's not like most people there don't have immediate family histories of moving in search of a better life, even.

Where out west are the jobs?

Even California and Oregon are doing slightly better than Michigan; most of the intermountain west is doing sort of ok-ish overall, and quite good in comparison to Detroit. Parts of the western midwest (or whatever you call Nebraska et al) have really low unemployment numbers, too. Since unemployment is hyperlocal, state averages don't mean as much as a county or city's, and there are places around the country that are doing far, far better than others.
posted by Forktine at 9:34 PM on October 11, 2009


carping demon: Apparently you missed the memo. Pinto = Zippo, Vega = "Bondo Buggy".

Corporatism vs Capitalism: Oh dear. Malor is correct. But the capitalist camp have a nasty tendency to demand less regulation, which is why we had the bad lending practices that should have been regulated out of existence.
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 PM on October 11, 2009


Meanwhile, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the moon.

What's wrong with that? A lot of people got paid working on that project.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 PM on October 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the moon.

This NASA wastes money meme needs to die like yesterday. The organization accomplishes amazing things and exposes the world to all kinds of new science. NASA gets less than one percent of the federal budget, even though many believe they get 25 percent of the federal budget.

I find it very telling that when this issue comes up no one ever says, "and the Pentagon just wasted untold billions on bullshit missile defense/hovertanks/latest precision guided death rocket."

Sorry for the derail, I'm just sick of the NASA bashing.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:42 PM on October 11, 2009 [27 favorites]


The "toy" recently crashed into the moon did not cost a billion dollars. Not even close. The total mission cost was 79 million dollars. And as delmoi stated, employed a good number of people for several years (and will continue to employ people working on the data).

On preview: Sick of the NASA bashing too.
posted by Orb at 10:44 PM on October 11, 2009 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile, we're crashing billion-dollar toys into the moon.

Seventy-nine million but, whatever. Obviously the study of astronomy is why people are starving.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:58 PM on October 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


For a long while (actually, since I moved away from Detroit) I've been skeptical of the idea that grimy or hard are synonymous with "real" — I don't know why it bothers me, but nevertheless it feels off to think that our "authentic" selves are the ones that manifest when we're most thoroughly screwed.

i think this might be along the same lines: a few friends of mine who are originally from either bigger midwest cities or back east will say this sort of thing about where they're from, and how portland lacks this, and it bums them out. and i always call bullshit because i think it falsely feeds some white boy hip-hop street cred mindset they have. they want to be able to see black youth living in poverty, but from inside the coffee shop while making beats on their laptops. whole neighborhoods can be litter strewn, with shit for amenities, where you won't actually ever go for any reason, just as long as where you live is just outside that neighborhood, and you made enough tips last night at work to get your sleeve finished next thursday, etc.

it's fucking weak. as long as everyone else but them is poor, struggling and preferably of color, otherwise, shit, they're just white trash, everything is a'ight.
posted by rainperimeter at 12:59 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Corporatism vs Capitalism
It's still a form of capitalism - you end up sounding like communists who deny the experience of 'Actually Existing Socialism' - i.e. the authoritarian tyrannies. They may not be the communism I want, corporatism (and historically that's technically been a term for something else anyway) may not be the capitalism you prefer, but it doesn't stop them being forms of those systems and worse, the form that historically they seem to tend towards. Seems little sense in denying it.
posted by Abiezer at 2:59 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


it's fucking weak. as long as everyone else but them is poor, struggling and preferably of color, otherwise, shit, they're just white trash, everything is a'ight.

Well I agree with you there, and that's why I hate all the poverty porn you see in the media. I just happen to think Detroit is a great town with lots of really nice, friendly, down to earth people who have put up with a lot of shit. I also love the whole metro area, from Ferndale, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Ann Arbor to Ypsi, Flint, as well as its proximity to the Great Lakes.

BTW - I'm a very unhip male nurse, but tell your friends from Portland we could use some gentrification HERE!

Nope. Just Edsels and Escalades, Pintos, Corvairs and Vegas. Decade after decade, after decade.

LOL! So true!
posted by Acromion at 5:17 AM on October 12, 2009


From HP LaserJet P10006's link:
BILL MOYERS: A reality check. Not one CEO of a Wall Street bank was there to hear the President. What do you make of that?

SIMON JOHNSON: Arrogance. Because they have no fear for the government anymore. They have no respect for the President, which I find absolutely extraordinary and shocking. All right? And I think they have no not an ounce of gratitude to the American people, who saved them, their jobs, and the way they run the world.
What a thoroughly depressing interview. All this time, while others were expressing their doubts, I have kept my little flame of faith burning, but Obama's inability to handle Wall Street is causing that flame to flicker.
BILL MOYERS: You did a remarkable thing on the floor of the House recently. And I want to show my audience a clip of a speech in which you urge people to break the law.

MARCY KAPTUR: So why should any American citizen be kicked out of their homes in this cold weather? In Ohio it is going to be 10 or 20 below zero. Don't leave your home. Because you know what? When those companies say they have your mortgage, unless you have a lawyer that can put his or her finger on that mortgage, you don't have that mortgage, and you are going to find they can't find the paper up there on Wall Street. So I say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes. Don't you leave. In Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Illinois and all these other places our people are being treated like chattel, and this Congress is stymied.
It sounds like her district is very lucky to have Marcy Kaptur representing them.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


There is something disingenuous about this "why should they have to leave their hometown" thread. Like Forktine, I read the line in the article about unemployment approaching 30% and wondered why the fuck there were still people there at all. Yes, I know that it's complicated and expensive to pick up and move a family--we're not talking Grapes of Wrath where you just load up on a truck and go. But it's not like this happened to Detroit's economy overnight. And it's not like Detroit is the only town where jobs have been lost. I just don't buy the "because it's their hometown and it makes them happy" reasoning;" go where you can make a life for yourself and your family. Has the Bootstraps mentality been processed out of our culture?
posted by njbradburn at 6:58 AM on October 12, 2009


Thanks for all the insightful comments.

I'd be grateful for more thoughtful analysis and/or book recommendations for how Detroit of the past became Detroit of the present, something that will go beyond the standard (and largely accurate but not particularly detailed) impact of the slow death of the automobile industry, and something that explores the paradox of the impoverished and depopulated city still somehow providing jobs and an urban nexus for its suburbs, some of which (Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Point etc.) are fabulously wealthy (and despite the impact of the current recession, continued to be wealthy as the city went to hell). New York in the late 70s still had the stock market and the banks, and so it still had Ossning and Stamford. What's different about Detroit, which doesn't have the former but has its equivalent of the latter?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:00 AM on October 12, 2009


So I say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes.
Was tempted to comment earlier regarding the woman with massive rent and heating bills that I was put in mind of the mass squatting in the immediate post-war years in Britain, when people came back from fighting overseas to find themselves homeless. Not being familiar with the situation in the US in general or Detroit specifically not my place to offer advice obviously, put pleasing to see a local politician thinking along similar lines.
posted by Abiezer at 7:00 AM on October 12, 2009


Wait, How To Marry A Millionaire isn't an instructional video? Fuck. I just got my hair dyed and curled.
posted by The Whelk at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2009


The list of excellent books on Detroit is a long one -- it's a fascinating case that has captured the attention of a lot of writers. June Manning Thomas' Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit is excellent, as is Georgakas & Surkin's Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study In Urban Revolution.

A good starting place that captures the weirdness, despair, and even hope of the current moment in Detroit is Rebecca Solnit's article "Detroit Arcadia."
posted by Forktine at 7:24 AM on October 12, 2009


A good starting place that captures the weirdness, despair, and even hope of the current moment in Detroit is Rebecca Solnit's article "Detroit Arcadia."
Saw that was recommended on the Detroit City of Hope site, which I was reading as it's associated with the legacy of the radicals of the 50s and 60s who wrote the last specific things I'd read on Detroit and I wondered what they had to say about the current situation.
posted by Abiezer at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2009


Abiezer: the Georgakas/Surkin book is centered around the radicals of that generation, though it encompasses a much longer time frame.
posted by Forktine at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2009


Maybe this is a stupid question, but every time someone posts saying people should get up and move, I think along these lines:

* There are more people than jobs nationally, with some areas doing better than others.
* If enough people from the bad areas move to the good areas, the good areas will get more crowded and have fewer available jobs and more congestion and sprawl issues. Also, a lot of existing infrastructure in the abandoned cities will be wasted unnecessarily.

I know I'm oversimplifying, but it seems unlikely that just having all the poor people bootstrap themselves and and somehow redistribute themselves efficiently is going to fix anything. And moving when you have no money sucks.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:08 AM on October 12, 2009


Nope. Just Edsels and Escalades, Pintos, Corvairs and Vegas. Decade after decade, after decade.

The VW Beetle was a bigger piece of shit than all of these combined. It was built for several decades, too.
posted by rfs at 8:53 AM on October 12, 2009


It took me about 3 years of saving pretty tightly (at an $8/hr job) to move from Louisville to San Francisco. And even then I had a free place to stay for a few months.

Moving is not an option for people who do not have wealth or wealthy connections.

I'd be grateful for more thoughtful analysis and/or book recommendations for how Detroit of the past became Detroit of the present ... New York in the late 70s still had the stock market and the banks, and so it still had Ossning and Stamford. What's different about Detroit, which doesn't have the former but has its equivalent of the latter?

Unlike NYC (or Chicago or L.A.), I don't think Detroit has the critical mass of people or industry to support a major exurb population, which is where all the money from the city has basically gone.

Hell, people are still moving 3 hours from the city because there are too many black people living 2 hours from the city.

The "riots" of 1967 "changed the city" from what I remember hearing.

http://www.67riots.rutgers.edu/d_index.htm
http://www.cbc.ca/windsor/features/detroit-riot/riotology.html

I realize that lots of cities had racially based riots in the late '60s, but it seems like Detroit never recovered.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:37 AM on October 12, 2009


It sounds like her district is very lucky to have Marcy Kaptur representing them.

I missed that one. It always feels good when a vote comes down and I see Marcy voting the way I'd want her to or speaking the truth out on the floor. And now that I work a floor down from her office, I can give a "Hell Yeah!" in person every now and then. I'll be sure to give her one for you, Gravy.
posted by cimbrog at 9:50 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can perhaps help with the "why don't you move" question bandied about, living in a city much like detroit.

When you live in these poor, old rust belt towns, and you HAVE a job, you're great. My rent is about thirty cents a square foot for one of the best neighborhoods in town, and just about any average apartment I've seen in most major cities would fit entirely within my massive living room. I only spend $100 a month on groceries, and I love fancy stuff and foreign foods. A fancy high end steak dinner for two? Can be had for under $75- with wine and a nice tip. Moderate cafes and diners are cheaper than the fast food chains. In someplace like Detroit, or Buffalo, or Erie, or so on, if you live in the city and not the burbs, you're firmly in the middle class for only $20 or 25,000 a year. At $40,000 a year you're damn near wealthy. A married couple with high school educations and $10 an hour jobs can buy a house- easily. It's hard to find a city with a thriving economy that allows someone to live so well on so little. And yes, it's because those cities are so screwed up, but it is very hard to see that when you know moving would just mean you have to take a massive, massive cut in your standard of living.

With what I made at my last job I had a great apartment, a car, my bills were paid, my 401K was funded, and I still had a couple hundred of every check to divide between my savings and just blowing $100 on clothes if I felt like it or whatever.

Its when you get laid off that you're fucked.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:38 AM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Depends on where you move to, also. A friend of mine got a job offer in San Francisco. I lent him seven grand, so he could afford to move and take the job, and that amount lasted one month. Rent was outrageous (compared to where I am in the heartland anyway), and he needed first-and-last plus a security deposit. The rest went toward food and utilities and lasted him just long enough to get his first paycheck at the new job. I'm old enough to remember my sister buying an entire brand new (albeit shitty) CAR for less than that. And how much worse might it be if you *don't* have a job waiting for you on the other end? That'd be freaking terrifying, especially in this economic climate.
posted by jamstigator at 11:06 AM on October 12, 2009


Moving from Detroit to say, Chicago, would be pretty rough if you don't already have a job lined up in Chicago. What landlord rents to someone unemployed and living off their savings, or just unemployed? And getting a job lined up in a different city from the one you're currently living in is pretty difficult, easier if you find one nearby but still hard. How far do you have to go from Detroit before you find places you might expect to have some luck? Of course people don't leave that easily. How could they?
posted by dilettante at 11:13 AM on October 12, 2009


The striking thing about Detroit is that it doesn't seem like anyone with the power to really do anything about it will. Couldn't congress, for example, pass a bill that allocates money especially for, say, the 10 or 20 poorest cities in the country to spend on projects meant to kickstart their economies? It could be things like the idea of shrinking the cities (proposed in one of the linked blog posts), or small business grants, or infrastructure improvements. It just amazes me that the government is apparently willing to stand by and let these cities starve.
posted by !Jim at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2009


It just amazes me that the government is apparently willing to stand by and let these cities starve.



DROP DEAD.
posted by The Whelk at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2009


Anyone else doing WELL out there, and trying to do the same thing?

I bought a car for a couple working at my local pizza joint. Not a new car, not a great car, but it ran, and they didn't have a working car, and there's nothing more demoralizing than the time-suck of not-owning a car and being flat-broke on your ass. I know, because my wife and I were among the flat-broke-on-their-asses for several years. I'm not trying to brag, or say I'm awesome and without my own faults. But I'm just so fucking sick of this shit. All of it. To think about the people with so, SO fucking much wealth, just sitting on their pile of gold like Scrooge McDuck. There's enough excess wealth to house everyone in this country. Not build-a-house-to-rent to someone. No. Fucking give-a-house-to-own. To everyone. All of this suffering, all of this bullshit is so goddamned unnecessary.

And every so often I feel so fucking frustrated about this crap I want to cry. I want to punch the ever-living shit out of something. I want to make people who have, hurt. I was talking with my wife a month ago about starting a completely not-for-profit bank. Just, free money. Here you go. Because, there are so many people out there who don't need that much to get on their feet. Fuck's sake, there are fucking businesses that have enough work orders to hire on more people, right now, but they can't, because the banks aren't lending. It's not right. It's stupifying how frustrated it makes me. I'm going to stop my circular ranting now, because I have nothing to offer but rage.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'll be sure to give her one for you, Gravy.

Thanks. She made me feel good about Ohio today and reminded me that not all politicians are sell-outs, but a few-- sadly too few-- actually try to serve their constituents. Wouldn't it be lovely if there were more like her?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:08 PM on October 12, 2009


I remember being here on Metafilter, what was it, like four years ago when we were talking about the housing bubble I said to expect that a quarter of the US people on Metafilter would be laid off after the bubble burst. And here we are. I wonder what the stats actually are?

Well. There's room for them to grow. I hate to say it. Things are gonna get worse. Employment wise. While the economy has reached so-called bottom for now and the worst of the recession is done cooking there will be no significant long term hiring for at least — prepare — two years. Maybe more. Companies don't need to. Productivity has skyrocketed. And due to the after effects of 13-16% unemployment (and those are the real numbers) nobody is going to be buying anything. Wages are also going to be driven down due to cash-flow pressures and creative attempts at keeping people employed - like furloughs. Which is actually what needed to happen anyway. Because people weren't really buying. They were borrowing so they could temporarily have bunch of shit they never needed in the first place. Well that is over.

Civil: Banks are NOT going to lend because nobody can afford loans. Not becusae there is no money. There is more money NOW in circulation than there was before the bubble. Why? Becuase people are not paid shit in this country. So they don't want to spend an amount that reflects what stuff is really worth— or I should say what it really costs.

The fact is this country cannot sustain anything close to full employment. Not and allow off shoring of cheap labor. That was all an illusion driven by easy credit. It creates a race to the bottom where there are no high wage jobs and we have this labor pool stuck in this idiotic permanent service economy where they don't produce anything anybody really needs.

This vicious cycle of off shoring labor, extending the goods distribution and shipping chain from overseas, then forcing people domestically into an unsustainable service economy where they have to borrow to buy, so we offshore MORE labor to drive down costs, so people get lower paid jobs, borrow more, and on and on...

The entire chain has effected everything from the quality of our food to our health to declining quality in standards of living to the declining quality of our environment.

And somehow all we have done is created a temporary fix so we can go right back into the same insane loop. It's not going to work.

So. yeah. Count me as cynical. Things are gonna have to get much worse before they can get better.
posted by tkchrist at 6:01 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh. Also while the over all pool of money in circulation has grown, yes, all that money is still in the hands of the banks. Becuase there are still TRILLIONS out there owed. TRILLIONS. More than the combined GDP of every country on earth. So all that money in the Giant Pool Of Money pales in comparison to the debt. That shoe has yet to drop.
posted by tkchrist at 6:04 PM on October 12, 2009


No excuse for whole cities of people to be living in poverty in this country. Time just did a great expose on Detroit and its rise and fall. I hope Detroit will rise again. It used to be such a proud place.
posted by credit-expert at 6:36 PM on October 12, 2009


Anyone else doing WELL out there, and trying to do the same thing?

Well, she's explicitly asked me to leave her act of charity anonymous, but in August when I was between teaching jobs (and posting incoherently belligerent rants in one of the many health insurance reform threads to boot) and grasping at straws to stay solvent and sane, a fellow MeFi -- whom I've never met and likely never will -- caught wind of my predicament and forwarded me enough cash to keep my health benefits rolling until I could get another teaching gig lined up for the fall. THIS, without knowing who this poor, stubborn Detroiter even was, much less whether I was the sort to exploit such incredible generosity.

It's an act of compassion I will never forget. And one I've yet to mention to anyone I actually know, mostly out of a (misplaced? deserved? fuck if I know) sense of shame. To all of you flippantly saying "Just move already!" please understand that not everyone is an upwardly (much less geographically) mobile techie-type able to Westward Ho! it up. The reality is much more complex, as others have aptly noted up-thread. So, thank you anonymously awesome MeFite and, yes, there are clearly others out there doing the same thing. It's almost enough to restore my faith in humanity, such as it is. For the moment, it'll suffice to buttress my already healthy faith in MeFinanity. And it's a helluva start.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:44 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


And we might as well get this out of the way --
Metafilter: Westward Hoes!

posted by joe lisboa at 6:50 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I'm somewhere between C_D and tkchrist. I've got a good job, I donate to specific charities and orgs. I also give a fair number of random $20 bills out, as "tips" for supermarket cashiers or just to homeless folks.

Would I be better off saving those $20s and making a larger donation to habitat for humanity or other assistance programs? I dunno. I sorta just want them to go out, buy a good (OK, decent) fifth of whiskey (or a lid ... or a bag ... or whatever) and comfortably self-medicate whilst the real economic shitstorm approaches.

Back in Louisville, less than $1K in debt, mostly for my car, I just kept praying that if $2,000 fell into my lap all my problems would have been solved. But honestly, I would have been happy with a free $20 to buy some weed.

Life sucks. I feel your pain, C_D.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:19 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It creates a race to the bottom where there are no high wage jobs and we have this labor pool stuck in this idiotic permanent service economy where they don't produce anything anybody really needs.

But everyone needs a college degree! Don't you see? All we need to do is increase the numbers of college graduates, and that will enable us to magic ourselves enough high-wage jobs for them, and standard of living will rise across the board!

We are fucked. I'd be curious to know how many degrees the average Starbucks barista has. I'm guessing somewhere around 2 or more.
posted by marble at 5:43 PM on October 13, 2009


I know this is a in-the-right-situation-I-could-be-Rambo statement, but if I was living with this bullshit, I wouldn't want to be lining up for a handout, I'd be wanting to arrange with my neighbours to wall off a section of the city and reclaim it. If the police and government found that unsatisfactory, well then it's going to be one hell of a media story to see them breaking down the walls and beating up people who are replacing overgrown lawns with food gardens.

In fact, as if anyone in Detroit is actually going to listen to me, I am personally asking them to find abandoned houses in their neighbourhood and tear up the lawn. Plant food. It's not too late for fall seeding (garlic, etc.). In the spring, plant more. In the meantime, those abandoned houses can be converted to firewood to keep you warm this winter.

Lawns to gardens! Houses to heat! Government to hell!

;-)
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:20 PM on October 13, 2009


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