Politics & Prejudices
The problems that remain
From Detroit to across the nation, there is much to be done
Published: November 7, 2012
The votes are in — except, that is, for 10 million or so absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots that won't be counted for days or weeks. Still, odds are you know something I didn't when I wrote this column: You probably know who won.
That is, unless we are hip-deep in another disputed presidential election, in which case we will have final proof that we and our nation are hated by all the gods.
But the odds are pretty good that by now, you know either that President Obama is going to serve a second term, or that Mitt Romney will be our first Mormon president.
No matter which is the case, the talking heads on all the cable channels are chattering away about why the election went the way it did. Tomorrow, they'll have moved on to predicting what the next administration will do — though based on history, they won't have much of a clue, especially if it's Malleable Mitt.
But here's what I know: Regardless of who is president, regardless of who controls the Michigan Legislature, regardless of how Michigan voted on the six ballot proposals and regardless of who controls the U.S. Senate, ...
We still have problems. Big problems. Now that the last lying campaign commercial has assaulted our brain cells, it's time to get real about some of what lies ahead:
Detroit: The voters on Tuesday either reaffirmed or pulled the plug on the tough Emergency Manager law the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder created last year.
That law was suspended when those who hate it — mainly unions and their supporters — collected enough petition signatures to slap it on the ballot. Everybody knows the main reason the governor wanted it: Detroit can't go on much longer the way it is.
Two months ago, I went to see Mayor Dave Bing. I could see how he might balance the budget by using the consent agreement, I told him. But I didn't see how that could do anything about — his figure — $12 billion in unfunded liabilities.
Essentially, he agreed. There's no way the city will be able to come up with that money. It seems inevitable that at some point the city will pass into some kind of state control, with or without a session in bankruptcy court.
If the emergency manager law is back as a result of the election, and an EM is named, what will his or her mission be?
And if the voters have repealed the EM law, what then becomes of Detroit? How does the city get out of this immense hole? How does a city function when it doesn't have enough police to ensure even minimal public safety?
How does a city with no trustworthy public school system attract new middle-class families?
How does a city that is totally broke turn down an offer from the state to fix up and restore its once-beautiful, now crumbling signature public park, i.e. Belle Isle?
And having done that, thanks to an insular and irrational City Council — how do the ruins of that once great city even begin to attract any rational investors?
Michigan's forlorn proletariat: Thirty years ago, this was a nicely humming, brawn-based economy. Men with sometimes less than a high school education could make $60,000 to $70,000 a year, with minimal skills and no overtime.
Then the world changed forever. No matter how far the economy recovers, there will never again be hundreds of thousands of high-paying, low-skilled jobs in the automotive industry here. When the automakers do hire nowadays, the new workers make less than $30,000 a year.
You can't buy a house on that. You can't even buy much of a new car on that. Yet we haven't a clue what to do about the hundreds of thousands of kids who come rolling out of our high schools every year, wanting to find careers and stay in this state.
We've cut scholarships and raised tuition, so that kids who could once have almost paid for college by working good summer jobs now come out $40,000 or more in debt.
Despite laying out all that money, they too often are finding that there aren't any good jobs available.
And what about those who aren't cut out for a traditional four-year school? How do they find and afford training programs that will actually lead to a real job?
What about the tens of thousands who come out of inner-city (and some suburban) high schools every year, basically illiterate and without work ethic and life coping skills?
What about them? Did either presidential candidate indicate they'd do anything to give them the skills they need to have a shot at becoming productive members of this society?
Did any candidate for any office say anything about helping these people, sometimes called the lumpenproletariat?
Does it ever occur to anyone living in the Grosse Pointes that their lives might not be utterly secure forever, living next to a huge and growing mass of desperate people with no future?
How much do you think the next president is thinking about those leading lives of quiet desperation in the ruins?
How long do you think their desperation will be quiet?
> Email Jack Lessenberry