Bankole: Make this the decade for equal opportunity in Detroit

Bankole Thompson

The past decade has been marked by greater inequality around the country. 

Detroit remained one of the worst places in the nation in regard to endemic poverty, despite what the drivers of the city’s ongoing recovery want to admit. It arguably is the headquarters of poverty in America. A 2018 Census report revealed that while income has increased, the city still remains the largest poor city in the nation with a 34.5% poverty rate. It also has the worst poverty rate for children at 54.5%. 

Detroit arguably is the headquarters of poverty in America, Bankole Thompson writes.

The city overall has not done well in the past decade. The inequities that defined life for many Detroiters should cause us in this new decade to move in a direction that is more compassionate, honest and result-driven.

We need serious, socially driven policymaking from City Hall that focuses on real outcomes for economic growth throughout the city, not pie-in-the-sky plans that have no chance of making the living conditions of people better. 

The scale of this crisis of inequality and its extreme socioeconomic implications for the future of the city and its children should force us to rethink the framework for policies that have not moved the needle toward any meaningful positive change. That includes removing the bureaucratic red tape that has hindered many Detroiters from accessing help from the city. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan got an earful during his charter-mandated community meetings in 2019, where some of the complaints against the administration centered on the lack of information to address some of the issues residents were having in their neighborhoods.

Others openly questioned the commitment of the mayor regarding the promises he made in creating a more inclusive Detroit after his reelection. 

There is no silver bullet that would instantly eradicate poverty. But sound public policy can have a tremendous impact in reducing its damaging effects.

Still, the continued existence of the levels of inequality that have been documented in several reports represents a glaring failure of our leaders to push for the kinds of programs that would significantly increase opportunities for Detroiters and put them to work. 

Detroiters have a right to expect that their city government would commit to significant investments in skills and job training that would guarantee their equal participation in the recovery.

They are not asking for a hand-out. They are simply demanding that this decade be different from the last, during which hundreds of millions of tax dollars were provided to certain companies as tax breaks. It is ridiculous to reward corporate fat cats with these tax breaks, with the promises that they will create jobs, while Detroit scored one of the worst places for job opportunity in 2019, according to Wallet Hub.

What is even more unacceptable is the fact that report after report show that the jobs that some of the companies are creating are only in the downtown area, which is just a fraction of the city. 

As we begin a new decade, it is time to end the problematic decision-making that has made life unbearable for many Detroiters who have been reduced to spectators as opposed to active participants of the economic revitalization.

In fact, the social dimension of the poverty that is crippling the city is an indictment of Detroit’s political leadership.

It should lead us to begin this decade with a prayer from Pope Francis: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor. It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and health care.”