Detroit: America’s War Torn City

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Once the wealthiest city in America, known as the “arsenal of democracy,” Detroit was the fourth largest city in the U.S. in the 1960s with a population of two million. Now a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the American economy, Detroit has become nothing more than a devastated landscape of urban decay with a current population of 714,000.

Visiting Detroit is the closest Americans can come to viewing what appears to be a war-torn city without leaving the U.S. This former powerhouse is a barren stretch of land, devastated by looters and and full of run-down, vacant houses. Rows upon rows of dilapidated structures line the streets; empty apartment buildings and factories consume the landscape. Almost a third of Detroit has been abandoned and has even filed for bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, Detroit is not alone. All across America, cities are being devastated by their own collapsed manufacturing bases. The U.S. government abandoned its manufacturing prowess when it pursued “free trade” deals that make it impossible for America to compete. The North American Free Trade Agreement all but eliminated manufacturing in the U.S,. as American auto companies were forced to relocate their manufacturing south of the border in search of lower costs. Without moving to Mexico, the American automobile industry could not compete globally with the rest of the world’s lowered labor costs and lax environmental standards.

Now debt-ridden and forced to cut many of its beleaguered services like transportation and street lighting, Detroit has a jobless rate of 29 percent. As public services are shuttered, the poor continue to suffer. Gazing at the streets of Detroit today, where the average house price is only $7,500 (some houses sell for as little as a few hundred dollars), it is hard to imagine the Motor City’s glory days.

During the 1960s and ’70s,  Japanese cars began entering American markets. Japan came equipped with a plan: put American auto companies out of business. Congress seemed to welcome this new foreign competition with open arms. Many of these same government policies pushed American auto giants like Ford, GM and Chrysler (now owned by Italian Fiat)  out of the country.

NAFTA put the final nail in the coffin, making it too expensive for American auto companies to manufacture cars in the United States. Knowing they could no longer produce competitively, American automakers shipped their jobs to Canada and Mexico.

Decades ago, no one would have ever dreamed that Detroit would one day become the epicenter of American decline. The birthplace of the American car industry, with the highest median income and the highest rate of home ownership in the 1950s, now appears to be a city devastated by destruction. Unfortunately Detroit’s decay may only be the beginning: as the United States continues to take on debt let manufacturing fall by the wayside with an increasing push for more “free trade,” Detroit may not be the only “war-torn” city in the U.S. for long.

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