"We are one nation. We are one people. We will rise and we will fall together," President Obama declared in his Labor Day speech. "Anyone who doesn't believe it should come here to Detroit. It's like the commercial says: This is a city that's been to heck and back. And while there are still a lot of challenges here, I see a city that's coming back."
We've heard that before. Sixteen years ago, when we were an editor at City Journal, we worked on an article by Julia Vitullo-Martin titled "Detroit Fights Back." "No American city ever fell as far or as fast as Detroit," Vitullo-Martin began. "But now Detroit is poised for a comeback. Every signal--economic, political, social--is positive." One hopeful development was the retirement of five-term mayor Coleman Young, whose tenure had proved disastrous.
"By 1973, when Young was elected mayor, the population had fallen to 1.39 million from its peak of 1.85 million in 1952; it stood at 1.03 million in 1990," Vitullo-Martin wrote. "The proportion of whites in Detroit dropped from 56 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 1990--the smallest of any of America's 150 largest cities."
Those trends have only continued in the ensuing two decades, as the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments reported in April: "The total population in the City of Detroit declined from 951,270 in 2000 to 713,777 in 2010, a decrease of 237,493 or 25%. . . . Overall diversity in the city declined slightly, from 81% Black Non-Hispanic in 2000 to 82% in 2010. The White Non-Hispanic population dropped to 8% in 2010 from 10.5% in 2000."