Detroit & the Recession: An Inside Look Part II

By Carlos Portocarrero

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On Monday I posted an interview I did with “Chris,” a married guy in his late thirties with three young girls that lives in a suburb of Detroit. Today I’m talking to someone closer to my own age and my own place in life.

Jim is a lawyer in his mid thirties that just had a baby daughter this year. I was curious to see how he felt about what’s happening to the economy in general and Detroit specifically.

What changes have you noticed around the Detroit area over the past few months as the economy has worsened?

Michigan’s economy has been bad for a few years. We have had high unemployment longer than most states. The rest of the country is now catching up with Michigan. Many people are leaving the state because of the lack of jobs here. Michigan has to reinvent itself from an industrial state to a more technological state. The auto industry has been slow to adapt, they must change the business model they were using.

Do you have friends or acquaintances that have been impacted? If so, how are they dealing with it? Are any of them leaving Detroit?

I have two friends that work for GM. They are both white collar workers. They have had to take pay cuts. They are also both in fear of GM going out of business [they were right]. I have had a friend who works for the State of Michigan as a lawyer, he was told he will have to take 6 unpaid days off this summer. I have had many friends and acquaintances that have moved from Michigan in the past year. Some have moved for the right reasons and some I think have moved just for a change of scenery.

There was a fire in your neighborhood recently and right away there were suspicions of insurance fraud. Are things really that bad?

There are many people who can not afford their houses mortgage payments anymore. There are a number of reasons why they can’t afford the mortgage payments, i.e loss of income, loss of job, loss of business. People do desperate things when they are desperate. It seems when the economy is good crime is down and so are scams. When the economy is bad crime is up and so are scams. I hear new scams to watch out for on a weekly basis.

As someone who just recently started a family, has the situation in Detroit made you nervous about the stability of your family? Would you ever consider leaving?

First, just bringing a baby into this world at this time is very nerve-racking. There is always a lot of stress, but with the economy so down, the stress has increased. I am very nervous about living in this area right now, but I am from the suburbs of Detroit. My family lives here and my wife’s family lives here so I would prefer to stay in Michigan. I have lived in Columbus, Scottsdale, and Chicago. I would move back to Scottsdale or Chicago anytime, I loved my time there.

Let’s play worst-case scenario: you’ve lost your job and are having trouble finding another. What would you do first: get a job in a totally unrelated field or leave Detroit?

Well I have enough savings right now to live for a while without a salary, plus my wife is a teacher so she has a good income. I cooked in college and I am still passionate about it. I would go to any restaurant to pick up some hours and then look for a job. I would first look in the Detroit area, but I would be willing to move if necessary. I used to live in Arizona and really liked living out there.

You are mayor of Detroit. Before your first scandal hits, what do you do to steer the city in the right direction?

The City of Detroit needs so much change, I am not sure it is possible. The first thing to do is to try to get rid of the corruption. The second thing to do is try to bring back business to the city. There is no incentive for a business to open in Detroit today. There is high unemployment, high crime, and citizens who do not do much to change the city. The city has undeveloped areas along the waterfront that need to be developed. There needs to be more police officers on the streets. Companies are moving out of the City of Detroit because the workers they have do not show up on a regular basis or show up late.

Note: One interesting thing I wanted to mention is that Jim is a divorce lawyer and I remember we once joked about how when the economy got tough was helping his business because more people were fighting about money. But now that things are REALLY bad, people can’t even afford to get divorced. They just live in separate rooms and wait it out—it doesn’t make financial sense to get divorced. Romantic, isn’t it?

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