Detroit suffers from self-inflicted wounds and faces bankruptcy. Many retirees are afraid they’ll lose their pensions because much of the city’s debt is to pensioners.
They’ve just elected a white mayor for the first time in four decades. So who’s to blame? Whitey!
Sheilah Johnson was a building inspector for the city for 28 years, a college graduate who passed up jobs that paid more because a city job offered stability and the promise of a good pension.
But the city’s recent plunge into bankruptcy — overseen by an outside emergency manager answerable to the state government, not the citizens of Detroit — makes her wonder whether she and other African American residents of the impoverished city will be able to stop Wall Street creditors from seizing what’s left of a municipal treasury they paid into for most of their lives.
“When my 9-year-old grandson asks me, ‘Grandma, are they trying to make us slaves again?’ how do I answer that child?” Johnson said, breaking into tears during court hearings over the city’s bid to launch the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy. “We do not need a slave owner, and I am not a slave.”
No, you’re a debtor who cannot pay your debts. Remember that other citizens around the nation have some of their pension funds invested in municipal bonds, so Detroit’s loss is their loss, too.
The city’s population is 82% African American, in a state that is 79% white.
That division began in 1943, when a race riot that lasted for days drove the first waves of residents out of the city, a move exacerbated by riots in 1967 in which 43 people died. Now, Detroit is considered the most segregated metropolitan region in the country.
“You can drive around now and not see a white person all day long,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II, who watched much of the trial and was one of nearly 1,000 protesters outside the court last month.
To summarize: Detroit’s black people have no one to blame but themselves. Hey, even Motown records moved to LA years ago.
Megan McArdle wrote about the causes of the jam:
I was not entirely prepared for the new revelations about the Detroit trustees’ custom of handing out annual holiday “bonuses” to workers, retirees and the City of Detroit. Between 1985 and 2008, they handed out roughly $1 billion this way. Had they been invested, one estimate says those funds would be worth almost $2 billion today — or more than half the current shortfall in the funds.
These “bonuses” were used to lower the contribution the city was required to make, to give retirees a little something extra around Christmas time, and to fund individual savings accounts that workers are offered along with their pensions. In 2009, when the financial markets were completely frozen and the automakers were shotgunning through the bankruptcy courts, the pension trust paid 7.5 percent interest into those accounts — which is about 7.5 percent more than they would have gotten at a bank. This while the pension funds were busy losing about a quarter of their value.