This is a post on demographics inspired by a conversation I had earlier today.
Detroit was, in its heyday just after World War II, when the US auto industry was literally firing on all cylinders, the fourth largest in the U.S., Its population was 1.85 million in 1950. Today, fewer than half that number reside in the city.
Detroit is a ghost town.
This was brought home to me this morning when a friend told me of his work to help sell off shuttered Detroit schools. He said they had already sold off some 30-odd schools, with many more planned. The fact is Detroit doesn’t have the student population to support all the schools it has. And the city is losing massive amounts of money as a result.
On December 8, 2008, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan said that the district’s inability to manage its finances was crippling the students’ learning environment, and declared a financial emergency. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Robert Bobb as the fiscal manager of Detroit Public Schools in 2009 to manage the school districts finances… The school district began selling 27 previously closed school buildings. On 3 March 2009, Bobb initially estimated that DPS’s current year deficit would be no less than $150M…To begin to erase this deficit, the district put twenty nine vacant buildings up for sale in early 2009.
Detroit Public Schools is also burdened with a shrinking population of students. Between the years of 2002 and 2008, the number of enrolled students dropped from 157,003 to 94,054, a 64,929 person decrease… Detroit Public Schools had a goal of closing 95 schools by 2009.
The indications of decay are everywhere. Read my post “That’s what happens when a town full of broke people gets a whiff of free money” and you will get a sense of what has happened there and how much worse the recession has made it.
Now, it’s not as if the Detroit Metropolitan Area is shrunken. There are still 4.5 million people there. The larger CSA has 5.5 million, ranking 11th in the US. But, Detroit, the city itself, is being abandoned. "Black Flight is the New Worry for Detroit" writes the Wall Street Journal. As a result, abandoned property is everywhere, both residential and commercial. The Guardian writes "Detroit homes sell for $1 amid mortgage and car industry crisis" and The Detroit News wrote "Detroit to purchase old MGM Grand casino for new police HQ" .
Even Mitt Romney’s childhood home, where his parents lived from 1941 to 1953 is a blight on the community and being torn down. And his father was both chairman of AMC and Governor of the state at one time.
All I’m saying is this is what depression looks like. When you get away from all the numbers and statistics, there are real communities, real lives and real people who are being affected by this. While I usually write about the numbers, I haven’t lost sight of the people because that’s what this is all about.