Scarred by decades of political corruption and neglect, Detroit has begun what many people believe is a painful yet necessary transition.
It's change that is focused more on the spirit of entrepreneurism and less on the comfort of traditional manufacturing jobs and labor unions. It's change that is forced on a city government, which has allowed Detroit to rack up $14 billion in long-term debt and ended last year with a $327 million deficit.
Gov. Rick Snyder picked Kevyn Orr, a partner in the Cleveland law firm of Jones Day, to help lead Detroit out of ruin as the city's new emergency financial manager. He will have sweeping, virtually dictatorial powers to run the city for what is expected to be an 18-month appointment.
Mr. Orr, who represented Chrysler in its successful restructuring, has a monumental task ahead of him:
-- Detroit's budget problems are tied to the city's declining population. Reaching a peak of 1.85 million people in the 1950 Census, white and now middle-class black flight has caused a loss of more than 60 percent of its population. The population fell to 713,000 in 2010 and is believed to be less than 700,000. As people left, property assessments were increased to make up for revenue losses. Many services were gutted, which made Detroit less safe and less desirable.
-- Sixty percent of Detroit's children live in poverty. Forty percent of the households do too. Half of the households have a combined income of $25,000 or less.
-- The Motor City, of all places, is one of the nation's most transportation-challenged cities. One of every four households in the city limits does not have access to an automobile. Public transit is lacking, which leaves the city's poorest residents land-locked. Many residents struggle just to find rides to supermarkets.
-- Nearly half of the city's population is functionally illiterate, according to one study. Eighty percent of births are to single mothers. The city has three times as many retired workers as active ones.
"It's still difficult to understand how Detroit has let things go as far as they have," said demographer Kurt Metzger, director of a research firm called Data Driven Detroit.
Current population: Less than 700,000
Peak population: 1.85 million (1950 Census)
Percentage drop: 62.2 percent
Finances: $14 billion debt, ending last year with a $327 million deficit
Percentage of residents living in poverty: 40 percent
Main racial makeup: 82 percent black, 10 percent white
Little-known factoid: One in four households in the Motor City has no access to an automobile.
SOURCE: U.S. Census and Data Driven Detroit, a private rm that focuses on demographics
Numerous warning signs went unheeded. The city's once-reputable school system plunged far below mediocrity.
"It's been going on for 50 years," said Sheila Cockrel, 65, a lifelong Detroiter and a Wayne State University professor who spent 16 years on Detroit City Council. "It's the can that's been kicked down the road by various mayors and city councils."
Detroit is trying to move forward while licking the wounds left by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's disgraced administration. Kilpatrick faces many years in prison after being convicted earlier this month on two dozen charges that include racketeering and extortion.
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