Yesterday the Detroit Lions played their final football game of the 2008 season. They became the first team in the history of the NFL since the beginning of the 16 game season to go 0 for 16.
Commentators have remarked that it could not have happened to a more fitting city. Detroit, a dying city in a dying state, has the worst team in the history of the league just as the automobile industry, what made Michigan what it is today, is on life-support.
This was not always the case for Detroit. It was once among the top 4 biggest cities in America with a booming economy based on the auto industry. The region attracted workers from all over the country to work for the Big 3 (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler).
Amongst the many moving to Michigan were a number of Arab-Muslims who have made the Detroit-Dearborn area one of the biggest Muslim populations in the nation. They joined Irish, Italian and Polish and other European immigrants who flocked to the area in search of work (which they usually found).
African-Americans and rural and small town whites from the South and the lower Midwest flocked to the area as well in search of work for the Big 3 and for work in related industries.
All of these groups combined formed a vibrant community built on manufacturing. The community spread from Detroit to the surrounding suburbs to other areas of the state of Michigan such as Flint. For much of the last century Michigan was the place to be and spoken off as a boom state the way many see a Silicon Valley or Research Triangle now.
Several members of my family moved to Detroit during the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s and got good jobs. My grandmother often tells the story of one of these relatives coming to visit her and saying “some people don’t know when they have it made, but I do. I am in Dee-troit and I work for the Ford Motor Company and I have it made.” His brother also had it made in Dee-troit, working for the railroad which fed materials to the auto industry, until he died in a rail accident.
Detroit began to fall apart in the 1960’s from what I understand. Every city in America has race problems; but I think that Detroit is like St. Louis in the sense that the race issue hurt the city so much that it could not function as a vibrant place to live. The Detroit race riots of the 1960’s led to a mass-exodus of whites and an abandonment of the city by the middle-class. What was left behind was a city that was poorer and blacker.
These white Detroit natives moved to the suburbs, but within a decade or two, as the industrial economy and the auto industry began to unravel, these once middle-class prosperous suburbs began to look not so different than the inner-city, only the architecture and complexion was a little different.
Today there are still pockets of wealth in Michigan and areas that are doing relatively well; but as a whole it is a state that is dying and will die unless it reinvents itself. This is not a city-suburb issue today or a race issue; it is an economic and political issue. Whether the auto-industry gets the bailout they need or not, and whether the industry reforms or not, the auto industry will never be that kind of economic engine for America again.
At the rate things are going much of Michigan will just die off. The young educated people will leave to areas where they can find jobs. Ethnic communities will move to other ethnic enclaves in more prosperous cities (such as Arabs moving to Chicago). African-Americans and whites whose grandparents migrated from the South may opt to go back down South to Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi if they have better job opportunities.
While Detroit is the biggest example of this it is not alone. Cleveland as a metropolitan area is shrinking due to a dying economy. Upstate New York and much of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and other old-industrial states are just dying out.
In his new economy, with manufacturing outsourced overseas and agriculture done by mega-farms and also overseas, I just do not see how much of the industrial Midwest and some other parts of the country are going to make it.
The new economy is not based on natural resources, skilled industrial workers, and agriculture. It is a knowledge based information economy. If an IT economy is trying to recruit the best young talent and they have a choice to set up shop in Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, Pittsburgh or Cleveland or to go someplace with nice-weather like California or Florida, good nature like Oregon, Washington or North Carolina, or a vibrant and diverse big city like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Boston, DC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta or LA where do you think they will go?
Without intervention from the federal government and a plan to build more things in America and grow more crops here I think within 30 years much of non-coastal America outside of a few places like Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin will become deserted. Big cities will become small cities, small cities will become small towns, and small towns will disappear while rural areas are depopulated. All of this is already happening it is just now with global forces at play the pace has quickened.
Conservatives in love with “small government” will be hard -pressed to defend their ideology as much of America shrinks and the standard of living of those left behind more closely resembles that of those in Latin America than North America. The political-left will have to wrestle with the question of whether or not it holds jobs for the masses as a higher value than “green issues” favored by upscale urban liberals.
Regardless to what happens I think Detroit would like to quickly forget 2008 and hope for a better 2009. Maybe the Big 3 will not come back; but at least the Lions may win a game or two.