The bankruptcy of a major American city is something that has many people shaking their heads in disbelief. How could a city like Detroit find itself in the position it’s in today? How could a once proud and significant city now be just the bud of late night jokes?
In the wake of the bankruptcy announcement, we have seen commentators on both sides of the political aisle blaming the public workers of Detroit, the firemen, teachers, and police officers. Fact is, Detroit’s pension benefits are modest compared to other cities.The average annual pension for retired Detroit police officers and firefighters is about $34,000, roughly half that of such pensions in Los Angeles and Chicago, 25% less than in Kansas City, Mo., and 36% below benefits for those in Dallas. Retirees from Detroit’s general city pension fund receive, on average, less than $20,000 a year.
We also see people blaming the United Auto Workers, saying they are nothing but greedy and lazy. Again, the truth is that the prevailing wage paid to new unionized autoworkers is less than that of the average laborer producing items ranging from metal and wood products to food and beverages.
Essentially, we see individuals placing blame on the middle class of the city. Placing the blame on the backs of hard working men and women who made Detroit their home, paid their taxes and have asked for nothing more in return then a fair wage, adequate health care and a decent retirement.
I find this totally absurd on many levels. Why would anyone blame the financial problems of Detroit on those who are making on average under 35 thousand dollars? Why are people blaming those fighting for a living wage?
First off, the cause of Detroit’s troubles are wide ranging and far reaching. You can start with a lack of political leadership that has plagued the city for decades. New York City almost went into bankruptcy during the mid 70s, but luckily, it had strong political leadership in the form of Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Beam that saw the city through the storm.
Secondly, Detroit has fallen victim to the sins of the American auto industry. An industry that did not adapt fast enough to compete with Japanese and Korean auto makers during the 80s and 90s. Detroit was making cars nobody wanted which led to the near demise of the entire industry until President Obama bailed out General Motors a few years ago.
And sadly, corporate greed has also played its hand. Detroit, and many of our cities for that matter have suffered from the off shoring of American manufacturing jobs to others parts of the world. Evidence of this can be seen right here in New York in cities like Schenectady, Rochester and Buffalo. And just as the American manufacturing jobs were being off shored and plants in Detroit were being shuttered, the pockets of those on Wall Street and the CEO’s got bigger.
So, who’s to blame for Detroit? I think there is plenty of it to go around. But to place the blame on the backs of the middle class, those who built Detroit and made it what it was, to me, is not being genuine.
As always, I want to hear from you!