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October 21, 2010

Fixing Detroit’s Problems

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 10:53 am

It’s not often I get political like I used to, so I’ll try to keep these types of posts rare. I’ve been writing about SEO way too much lately though, and I never intended that for this blog – so it’s time to go in a slightly different direction today.

Listening to talk radio last night, they were discussing a new Detroit schools proposal. Basically, in an attempt to get parents more involved in their child’s schooling, they’ve proposed criminally charging parents who don’t attend teacher conferences.

It’s clear that the city is desperate, but this isn’t the answer. Statistics clearly show that children with a parent in jail do worse in school. Locking up mom isn’t going to help (besides that, there’s already a shockingly high number of Detroit school children who already have one parent in prison to start with.)

Detroit has several problems, but three of the biggest ones are clearly related. We have the worst schools, the highest unemployment rate, and the highest percentage of people on government assistance. It doesn’t take much to connect those lines. Not finishing high school makes it very tough to find work, and not having work makes you very likely to apply for welfare. It’s a vicious cycle, so how do you stop it?

To stop the cycle, you get tough. Very tough. You definitely don’t start by throwing people in jail, and you can’t just cut off welfare either. Like the cartoon above you have to throw a drowning man a life preserver – but when he gets out of the water he takes it off and learns to swim. Currently, we have a bunch of people still walking around wearing water wings and counting on somebody else to pull them out if they fall overboard. We’ve got to teach these people to swim – one way or another.

Doing that requires tough love, which I’ll explain after this little anecdote.

Years ago when I was in college I worked full time as a Wendys manager. It was a great job for a 19 year old. $30k/year, tuition reimbursement, free food, and flexible schedule. Eventually I was given a nice raise in exchange for working at what we call the “section 8” Wendys. The store was completely surrounded by government housing projects – which also seemed to be the only source of employees we could find willing to work there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following conversation:

me: “Hey, XXXX, I know you’re only part time working 10 hours per week, but I’ve got a full time spot open for 40 hours every week and overtime if you want it. It would mean $1 more an hour too. Do you want it?”

employee: “(grabbing calculator and doing some quick math) No thanks, if I did that it would only be about $200 more per month than my welfare check – which I’d lose, so I’d rather just work the 10 hours.”

That’s the problem I’m talking about. Currently, most people on welfare make more than full time employees at fast food places, Walmart, etc. There’s no reason for them to care about school or work.

That’s where the tough love comes in. The first step is to make a high school diploma or GED required in order to receive welfare or food stamps. If you don’t have one, you can still get assistance but only as long as you verify that you’re attending classes. If you miss class, your check stops coming. The same applies for recipients with kids. If your child isn’t attending school, your check gets severely reduced.

The second step is work. If you’re on welfare or food stamps, and able to work (obviously this wouldn’t apply to disabled, mentally ill, etc) then you must be actively looking for work. Something like 3 job applications per week – and it will be verified. If you refuse a reasonable job offer (equal to or more than what you’re getting from the government) then your benefits get taken away. You can re-apply in 6 months. Also, until you do find work, you’ll be spending 10 hours per week picking up trash on the side of the freeways. We have no shortage of trash to pick up in Detroit.

So how can we do this? That’s where part 3 (and the jobs part) comes in. Establish a larger welfare office – just like a probation office. Welfare recipients will meet with their welfare agent on a monthly basis. The WA will check up on their job applications, schooling, child’s schooling, etc. Hiring these agents should create plenty of jobs. Not to mention the people we’d have to hire to drive and supervise the road cleanup crews.

Similar programs exist in Europe, and countries that employ them (like Germany) have pretty low unemployment rates. Of course, the countries with the lowest unemployment rates are those that don’t offer any type of government assistance, but I don’t think that’s an option.

The current situation in Detroit is one that sees no value in education or hard work. That’s the attitude that needs to change before the city can even start to turn itself around. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is with tough love. It may take a generation or two before it happens, but it will eventually happen.


  1. I really like this post and agree with pretty much everything that you said. Your ideas for reform are very good, and I don’t understand why something like this isn’t in place. I’m also a fan of requiring drug tests for welfare recipients just like for job applications.

    Growing up in a family received (and still is) government assistance (although not in Detroit, but still it isn’t like Taylor is the crown jewel of cities or school systems) essentially my goal is to NOT be a victim of circumstances or get caught in the cycle.

    I do think that something similar to the “find a job” requirement is already in place (or at least was in the mid 90’s), because I remember when I was younger my mom had to go to these classes where they taught basic computer skills and how to make a resume, and they had to apply for jobs. I still remember having to help my mom with an application because it had a “quiz” involving something to do with mathematical measurements on there and my mom did not know how to do simple math that I could grasp at age 10.

    She eventually landed a job at Taco Bell and has been there for about 15 years (with a brief 2 year stint as a manager of a Rally’s around 2000) but she is just a standard crew member. I can sympathize with you on the “refusal” of employment because my mother has actually turned down promotions and her reasoning was that the decrease to her foodstamps would be about equal to or more than the increase in her pay, so why do the extra work for the same amount of “money”? However she constantly complains about her money problems and the fact that even though she is full time she sometimes only gets scheduled 32 hours a week. Yet she refuses to seek out a second job or accept the promotion at her current one.

    Sorry for rambling on but I just wanted to share my personal experience with this situation. Maybe you should get more involved in politics to have an influence in these policies???

    Comment by Meg — October 27, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  2. “Walking around with their water wings”…

    Heck half of them don’t even bother to get out of the water once they have a flotation device. They just sit there and start asking for food to keep them from starving… And once they get food they feel no need to leave their new aquatic home.

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.” – Ben Franklin

    Comment by Thos003 — November 12, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  3. Just curious where this picture is from. I don’t recognize that skyline as Detroit. Maybe it’s just a perspective issue.

    Comment by Sara — November 23, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  4. Where was this photo taken? I don’t recognize this perspective of the Detroit skyline.

    Comment by Sara — November 23, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

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