The Paris of the West and the Vast Wasteland That Remains

Detroit1Michigan has been in the headlines recently with right-to work legislation and an omnibus abortion bill. What didn’t cause much stir is Michigan’s 2011 eighth grade education report card. The state as a whole is able to claim to be on par with the nation in reading, with 32 percent of eighth graders rating as “proficient” or better; in math, 31 percent of students ranked as “proficient” or better. Compared with national averages of 32 and 34 percent of eighth graders at or above grade-level  in reading and math, respectively, Michigan’s public education system appears to be as mediocre as every other state. What the statewide numbers don’t show, however, is the complete failure of the Detroit Public Schools.

Detroit2Decades ago Detroit, called the “Paris of the West,”  was the fourth largest city in the nation with a large and thriving middle class. When Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, he was able to bring down the production costs of automobile manufacturing, which in turn made ownership possible to a much larger portion of Americans. With increased sales, Ford needed more workers to produce more vehicles. To attract those employees, he offered $5 a day wages and a shorter work day. The work was monotonous, but the wages were nearly twice what any other auto manufacturer offered. Hopeful workers flocked to Detroit for jobs. Their employment created a large and prosperous middle class. The city’s population peaked around two million in the mid-1950s. By the time the 2010 census rolled around, only 706,585 residents remained.

Detroit3The roots of decline in Detroit can be traced back to two events: the rise of the auto union (1936 – 1950), which put increasing demands on manufacturers for higher wages and benefits, leading to higher production costs, higher resale prices and lower profits; and, the 1961 election of Democrat Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, whose expansion of the role of government was unprecedented. With the help of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cavanagh launched the Model Cities Project, pumping 400 million government dollars into a nine square mile radius of the city. The idea was to make it the model of great American cities. Instead, Detroit was left with decrepit, abandoned houses and vacant lots.  The average price of a home in Detroit today is $5,700. And those vacant lots have come in handy for residents to plant urban farms to feed themselves since there are no longer any large scale supermarket chains operating in the city.

Detroit7The money poured into Detroit came with strings attached. Because the government provided funding, the government decided who could build, where they could build, which businesses could stay open and which businesses must close. Residents had to pay higher taxes to fund the government regulation, but were promised more training and education in return. However, the taxes and regulations were so burdensome, businesses and people began to exodus the city en masse. This led to decreased government revenue. For over 50 years now, the Democrat’s  answer has been to raise taxes and create government programs to fix the city’s decline. The net result was that anyone who could afford to flee the city did so, leaving the city with mostly impoverished residents, no work and very little education.

Books, some still left in wrappers, fill the classrooms.

Although Detroit Public schools spend $15,884 per student, the report card the city received showed no return on the investment. In reading, only seven percent of eighth grade students are “proficient.” The numbers in math are even worse, with only four percent of Detroit’s eighth grade students measuring as “proficient.” This has been devastating to the black community, which makes up 88.1 percent of the population.

Detroit4In 2003, philanthropist Robert Thompson pledged $200 million for the creation of 15 charter high schools in the city in an effort to rescue students languishing in Detroit’s public schools. The goal was to give parents and children more education options. But the offer was withdrawn after the Detroit Federation of Teachers staged angry protests, claiming the schools would syphon millions of dollars from the public schools. The union successfully killed one of the only opportunities to come along for students. In withdrawing the money, Thompson said, “The proposal was meant to be for kids and not against anyone or any institution.” And yet, the teacher’s union made sure it was all about the teacher’s union and not the students.

Detroit5Today, the state has wrested control of Detroit away from the city in an effort to improve conditions, but only time will tell if the bleeding can be stopped, if this once great city can avoid going over the brink. With the myriad problems Detroit has, it may be too little, too late. After all, the city has lost 450,000 manufacturing jobs and 237,493 residents in the last ten years alone, all while facing a $327 million public schools budget deficit. Add to that the dubious title of “murder capital of the United States,” an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, a 19 percent high school dropout rate, and only 9.2 percent of the population consisting of two parent households, the outlook is bleak indeed.

Detroit8The aura of Detroit is hopelessness and despair. Wrack and ruin are the order of the day. Filth, crime, drug abuse, illiteracy, ignorance, illegitimacy and poverty are rulers over the kingdom. Is this what America wants for its future? In November, it would seem we answered “yes” when we re-elected Barack Obama as President. The policies that destroyed Detroit are the same policies the modern Progressive party pushes today. Who cries for Detroit? Who will cry for America?


  1. I was born in Dearborn. My father worked for Ford after they were made to remove “religion” from their job applications. My father moved us down to Miami, Florida in 1963, after getting laid off from Ford. We lived in several of the outlying Detroit suburbs such as Taylor, Warren, Oak Park, and finally Ypsilanti. I can remember skating at Belle Isle as a kid in the winter. I remember liking living in Michigan. The countryside was beautiful, but as a kid I had no control over where I lived. When I saw the photographs of the “fabulous ruins of Detroit,” it made me want to weep for the lost beauty and prosperity of a once-great city. I had good teachers in some of the schools I attended. I have to say that I would not live there now. I’m living in Califronia and want out, but our destination is northern Arizona, not Michigan.

  2. I also was born in Detroit and lived the first 11 years in the suburbs during ’60’s. From what I recall there was a huge argument whether to teach children in first grade “whole reading” v. phonics. I also recall seeing Detroit burning during the race riots of 1967 and that left an impression on my young mind as it was my first witness to hatred and violence on a large scale. My father’s job was connected to the auto industry and we left Michigan to live in California, another liberal state. There’s no question there is beauty in the land in Michigan. Our backyard was an apple orchard. To see the pictures of the ruins of Detroit today saddens me but also serves as a reminder that buildings have to be maintained or they will rot.


  1. […] and half the population left in the last half-century. It’s in that vein that I read a piece today by Amanda […]

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