Monday, February 23, 2009

A moment of silence for Michiganders

I don't have children. I don't own a house or a car. I have little money invested in the stock market. My job is secure, though I will be leaving it this summer to begin graduate study.

On the one hand, all of this makes me feel pathetically disconnected to the social and economic structures that bind and connect us all.

On the other hand, it means the recession that has gnawed through America's economy has left me relatively unscathed.

I'm made aware, again and again, of how lucky I am by the experiences of friends and family in Michigan--the state with the highest unemployment rate and the worst future employment projections in the country. Michigan has been hit so hard because so much of the economic burden in the state has been shouldered by the floundering auto industry.

I knew things were bad in Michigan, my home state, but I didn't know how bad until I returned for a visit back in July and experienced firsthand the disconnect between the Michigan of my past and the Michigan of my family's present. Entire rows of businesses had been shuttered. Homes sat empty, abandoned months or years before and absolutely unsellable. Since then, mind-bogglingly, things have gotten even worse.

I recently came across a slideshow from the New York Times that explores the effects of the recession on Pontiac, Michigan, the home of General Motors and a city I lived in for two years as a young adult. It paints a picture of desperation: A young man, born and raised in a General-Motors family, laid off and killing time while he waits to be shipped off for a stint in the Air Force. A small restaurant whose husband-and-wife owners may have to close down and find jobs. Even the optimist, a preacher devoted to the city, has trouble keeping a hint of desperation out of his voice as he speaks about the future of Pontiac's youth.

Then there's Detroit, long-maligned but grand in its design. From a distance, far enough away that its various crises are all but undetectable, Detroit looks absolutely grand:

I pulled that photo from a website called Foreclosure Listings Nationwide: Foreclosure Listings for the Serious Buyer. "And why not move away?" my mom, a lifelong Michigander, asks. "Why would anybody want to stay here, when things are so bad?"

1 comment:

Charlene said...

My family is from Michigan.

My mom and dad both graduated from high school. They were young parents - most of of my family and their friends took jobs in the factory or in construction. It has always been a stable area - my aunt has worked with Ford for 30 years, my dad has been in heating and cooling since he was 18 (now, 50), and other relatives at various factories (GM, Ford, etc.)

My dad has not worked in over a year. My mom works half the year and collects unemployment. Looking outside of my family, areas like Wixom that were supported by factories are dead. It is not just the factories - it is the restaurants, salons, small businesses...just seeing all of the houses with signs on the lawn is very depressing.

My sister was let go from her waitressing job. They cannot afford their condo on her husband's salary. This was originally something they could afford. They might default on purpose and walk away.

I hate going to visit my family. It is depressing.


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