Just off of the James C. Lodge Freeway in Detroit is Eight Mile Road. The stretch near the freeway is just east of the famed area that provided the basis for the Eminem film of the same name. To its north lie predominantly white suburbs — over 77 percent of those who live in Oakland County are white — with median family income in excess of $65,000. Married couples comprise approximately half of households, with fewer than 15 percent of households led by a single female. Since 1990, the population of Oakland County has jumped from 1.083 million to 1.202 million.
South of Eight Mile Road lies the city of Detroit, with a nearly 83 percent black population and a median household income of under $27,000. Almost 74 percent of households in Detroit are led by single parents, nearly all women. The population of the city has dropped from 1.027 million in that same period to approximately 713,000.
Eight Mile Road itself paints a bleak picture. In the middle of a weekday, the streets are sparsely populated; old, solid-structure brick houses with rotten roofs dot the side streets; beaten-up Pontiacs from the early 1990s sitting forlornly in driveways. Hair salons, liquors stores and rim stores are open for business, but they’re located between defunct hair stores, liquor stores and rim stores.
What happened in Detroit? Horrific governance destroyed the industrial infrastructure that created the growing mixed-population base of the city; it centralized employment in the government while devastating the business and tax base. Businesses fled to the suburbs, as did whites. The bulk of the black population, trapped in a cycle of poverty and government dependence, sold a bill of goods by Detroit’s politicians, stayed behind.
Those politicians covered their mismanagement with racially charged rhetoric, from former Mayor Coleman Young to jailed former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. When Detroit went bankrupt in 2013, it was the final result of decades of failed policy decisions based on central planning.
When financial analysts look at Eight Mile Road, they see the tragedy of a once-proud city separated. On one side of the road, Detroit; on the other side, Detroit without the mismanagement. To fix the situation would require good governance — slashing regulations, lowering taxes, attracting business, creating jobs.
Instead, politicians offer more of the same. This week, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that America’s racial disparities are a result of continued racism and suggested that neutral laws had reinforced an enduring “subtle racism” throughout the country. Holder cited particular disciplinary practices in schools and sentencing guidelines as repositories of racism.
None of this will heal Detroit or places like it. Economic health requires a dedicated workforce, a free entrepreneurial climate, protection against crime. Those, in turn, require solid two-parent families, a competitive educational environment and a dedication to equal application of the law rather than equal results under it.
Eight Mile Road is a blot on a once-beautiful city. It will remain a dividing line so long as America’s politicians continue to use it as one.
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