The Corner

The Black Middle Class Exodus from Detroit

Detroit — “This is the Motor City and this is what we do,” announced Eminem in this year’s iconic Super Bowl ad boasting that Detroit was back. That boast rings hollow this week after 2010 census figures revealed Detroit’s population is now just 713,000 — a breathtaking 25 percent decline from a decade ago.

This is the Motor City and this is what Democratic urban policy does.

Press reports lazily wrote the figure off to the “crumbling industrial base of the Midwest” (New York Times) and a victim of “the auto industry’s slump” (Associated Press). Sure Michigan as a whole was the only state to lose population due to car trouble and a hostile, anti-business union culture. But if Detroit is a victim of the Not-as-Big Three, how come the census found that all three counties bordering Detroit — all hammered by auto job layoffs — have increased in population?

What is driving down Detroit’s numbers is a black middle class in full retreat to the suburbs — fleeing the high-crime, high-illiteracy dysfunction that two generations of fatherless inner-city homes have bred. Detroit is America’s poster child for disastrous federal welfare policies that have gutted the black family and made inner cities everywhere unlivable.

Tuesday’s timely A1 USA Today story, “Black populations fall in major cities,” tells the tale. “The black population is declining in a growing number of major cities, fueled by distinct trends,” reports the paper. “Blacks — many in the middle or upper-middle class — (are) leaving cities for the suburbs.”

“Typically, middle-class African-American families make the same kind of choices that white families have made for some time,” says Chinwe Onyeagoro of a Chicago-based economic development firm. “As soon as kids are school-age, they move to the suburbs.”

This suburban integration — at work in Detroit’s northern suburbs of Oakland and Macomb counties, in particular — gives lie to the Left’s claim that Detroit is a victim of “segregation.” In truth, Detroit’s divide is between suburban family culture and a city illegitimacy rate of 85 percent, which the great Detroit columnist Bill Johnson calls an “assembly line for criminals.”

After decades of nation-leading murder rates, public schools with 25 percent grad rates, and car theft rates that drive auto insurance 300 percent higher than in surrounding suburbs, everyone who can leave Detroit has done so. View Detroit’s main thoroughfares — devastated Grand River Blvd. on the west side, leveled McNichols to the east side, the gaping edifice of Detroit’s train station downtown — through the eyes of a Soccer Mom and her schoolchildren, and it is chilling.

An auto slump did this? Invite the national media out of their ivory towers to interview folks in the street.

Charilyn Goolsby, 45, tells the Detroit News she left the city in 2009 with her 15-year-old daughter. “Between crime, City Hall corruption, insurance costs and schools, ‘it just got to be too much,’” she says.

“It’s the crime, the insurance rates, it’s so overwhelming for people trying to be legal and honest and work and live in the city,” said Darryl Gaddy, 44, who was born and raised here and recently moved out.

While the media wallows in Detroit’s alleged racial division, the black middle class is following the white middle class and migrating to safe suburbs, good schools . . . and, yes, America’s South where right-to-work states are manufacturing-friendly.

So much for racial division. The black and white middle class agree — Democrats’ heartless, illiberal welfare state has sunk Motown.

— Henry Payne is editor of and cartoonist for the Detroit News. He can be reached at


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