(Economist) — IT IS hardly news that the city of Detroit has been in long-term decline, a victim of everything from the problems of the “big three” carmakers to family breakdown, crime and middle-class flight, both black and white. But the scale of the recent collapse has caught even hardened Detroiters by surprise. When the results from the most recent decennial census appeared earlier this year, they showed that in the decade from 2000 to 2010 Detroit lost an astonishing 25% of its population, a demographic catastrophe (New Orleans apart) without parallel in the developed world.
With a population falling this far, this fast, come terrible problems. There are now about 60,000 empty houses in Detroit, says its mayor, Dave Bing. Vacant properties are magnets for crime, and once one house in a block has been vandalised, and often set alight, the problem tends to spread. As property prices in the city collapse, so too does the rate-base that is used to collect the taxes that go to pay for schools; so the schools decline too, encouraging yet more people to move across “8 Mile”, the road that marks the city’s main northern limit, or to plusher suburbs like Dearborn to the west or Grosse Pointe to the east. Those who are left are likely to be the poorest, least-skilled and so least mobile. Only 11% of Detroiters aged between 25 and 34 has a college degree; in Seattle, the equivalent figure is 63%. Around 50% of the city’s adult black males are unemployed, and 38% of all Detroiters live below the poverty line.