That much of the Motor City’s self-sustaining entrepreneurial spirit has disappeared was again reinforced in a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. It revealed Detroit as the poorest city in America with populations of 300,000 or better– about 40 percent live below a poverty line of $24,008 for a family of four.
Mayor Mike Duggan feigned concern. A quote in the Detroit Free Press claimed his administration has been steadfastly focused on those issues that affect poverty rates. “This is why I ran for the job,” he said.
Forgive my cynicism, but the mayor is either incredibly naïve, doesn’t understand the nature of those trapped in the poverty cycle, or is simply disingenuous and misleading about his level of compassion. There’s ample reason to believe his concern for the poor isn’t as warm, fuzzy or genuine as he would have us believe.
Research shows the dependent poor and elderly make up a disproportionate share of the city’s demographics. About 60-percent of the city’s elderly live at or below the poverty level. Of that number, roughly 70-percent are moderate to severe poverty-stricken. But while troubling, this isn’t the largest pocket of despair.
Also found in Detroit is what social scientists call a “feminization of poverty” epidemic. There are many reasons women tend to be poorer than men. Welfare and single parenthood contribute to make them more vulnerable to impoverishment. In fact, nothing has done more to kill local initiative and stifle growth and prosperity than Detroit’s long history as a haven for single mothers and welfare recipients.
Welfare and related benefits for a mother and two children exceed what someone can earn working full-time at a minimum wage job. Recipients receive cash assistance, free medical, housing, child-care and income supplements that undermine the dignity and moral confidence of those mothers who make daily sacrifices to work and support their kids. An entire culture, indeed generations of recipients accept these benefits without stigma and without embarrassment.
There is little the mayor can do to successfully usher welfare moms into productive taxpaying jobs with a future. Able-bodied recipients generally refuse to participate in training or improvement programs. Since many are high school dropouts with limited education and work experience, they can’t qualify for the few new jobs being created. And because welfare is so attractive they choose unemployment.
If the pathologies of the poor souls wallowing in their sometimes self-inflicted misery are to be remedied, long-term behavior modification strategies will be needed. But based on Duggan’s history, he may be content to just give lip service to solutions that unlock a major assault on the problems of the chronically poor. His true feelings about Detroit’s destitute were exposed while CEO of the Detroit Medical Center (DMC).
Detroit Receiving Hospital had a reputation of being the “poor people’s hospital.” DRH was running up huge deficits, mainly from uncompensated care provided to the city’s poor residents who, by and large, came into the facility through the emergency room.
CEO Duggan contemplated changing the perception of the hospital, and improving DMC’s bottom line, by limiting or denying access to people who didn’t have health insurance, or couldn’t afford to pay for their health care. Emergency room patients would be stabilized and shipped off to other hospitals.
During the next election cycle, voters ought to ask Mayor Duggan — who opts to live in the proverbial Ivory Tower of the Manoogian Mansion — why CEO Duggan thought barring the doors of Detroit Receiving Hospital to keep poor people out was an acceptable demonstration of his compassion for the poor.