Bankole: Is Detroit committed to inclusiveness?
Think about it. In the last month, three different reports about the state of Detroit underscore a low point and a tough place for the city to be in, and further question our commitment and preparedness to make Detroit a truly inclusive town.
First, it was Detroit Future City releasing its 77-page report called “139 Square Miles,” four weeks ago, which offered a critical lens on revitalization efforts since the city came out of bankruptcy. The damning report provided stark numbers that show a great divide between opportunities available in the downtown area and what the neighborhoods are lacking, especially well-paying jobs.
At the heart of that report is evidence showing that blacks are trailing their white counterparts in employment, and opportunities for them are scarce.
In short, the report was a punch in the stomach for those who cheerled the comeback of the city without any critical analysis of our strength and weaknesses. It also ran contrary to the high degree of optimism that has always accompanied announcements of economic development initiatives by Mayor Mike Duggan and his administration.
As if that was not disturbing enough, the Urban Institute released its own report on the city last week, which targeted tax subsidies both at the federal and local levels. The think tank noted that between 2013-2015, downtown and Midtown received a majority or 57 percent of state, federal and local tax subsidies for investments.
And like the Detroit Future City assessment, this latest examination from the Urban Institute doesn’t surprise many as it is yet another proof of who is getting all of the action in the city’s rejuvenation.
The same week as the Urban Institute issued its take on the city, the census came out with its own view of the economic temperature in the city.
According to the census, the city’s 40 percent poverty rate dropped to 35.7 percent, the lowest since 2008. But Detroit still remains the largest city in the country with such a high dose of poverty. Black income remained behind those of whites and Hispanics.
“Income goes up when one, there is a job opportunity, and two, when you have the skills to take advantage of it,” Mayor Duggan told The Detroit News.
The mayor is correct. You need to have a skill to acquire a job. No company should be forced to hire anybody without the requisite skill and other qualifications.
But since the refrain has been that there are jobs but not many people are skilled to take those jobs, the city has a responsibility to help train residents to be prepared for the jobs that will be available. If the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. — the city’s main workforce agency — is supposed to accelerate the economic recovery, then we need to see some results.
Clearly, from the census data, there is no reason to celebrate. If anything, Detroit is at a tipping point as these reports offer teachable moments for our leaders to either change their current strategy, which so far has resulted in limited outcome and impact, or more importantly make right and decisive investments in the neighborhoods.
At the end of the day, the question that deserves our utmost attention in this revitalization era is: How fair and even-handed is the comeback?
Comeback is good but fair and even-handed comeback is better — and more commendable.
While the census report gave us a measured and critical assessment, it is no time for a victory lap or reprieve from the hard work that is ahead. There has to be a demonstrable commitment to cater to those who evidently do not see themselves through the mirror of downtown rejuvenation.
That is another reason the mayoral town hall on poverty the evening of Sept. 18 at Calvary Baptist Church is so crucial.
Though Duggan has declined to participate, his opponent State Sen. Coleman Young II will address hundreds of residents concerned about their own survival, well-being and future by offering a plan to tackle the city’s inequities.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.