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The Real Economy

In Michigan, a tale of two Dodges

Jeremy Hobson Feb 24, 2012
The Real Economy

In Michigan, a tale of two Dodges

Jeremy Hobson Feb 24, 2012


Jeremy Hobson: We’re here in Michigan to get a sense of The Real Economy, what matters most to voters ahead of next Tuesday’s Michigan primary.

And this morning, we’re going to do something a little different than usual. We’re going to visit two places in the Detroit area, just ten miles apart but with the same name: Dodge.


We’ve just arrived on Dodge street in Detroit, and like the other streets around it, there are only so many houses. Most of the lots on this street are just empty lots that are filled with overgrown grass.

Vanetta Kearns has been here for 30 years.

Vanetta Kearns: Come on in the house.

Hobson: And how have things changed on this street in that time?

Kearns: A lot. Abandoned houses, dope houses. All that.

Hobson: So in the last few years, as the economy’s gotten really bad — here in Detroit and around the country — what’s happened in that time?

Kearns: Well, they knocked down a lot of the abandoned houses.

Hobson: Just in the last few years?

Kearns: Yeah.

Hobson: How’s the recession been for you personally?

Kearns: All right. I own this house, so I ain’t going nowhere.

Hobson: What about income?

Kearns: I’m laid-off right now.

Hobson: Are you drawing unemployment?

Kearns: Yeah.

Hobson: Are you going to be able to keep that for some time or —

Kearns: For about a year. Hopefully I’ll be called back.

Hobson: And what are you thinking about how Washington, and how Congress and all that —

Kearns: I don’t even want to go there. I mean, we can’t do nothing because they got more power than us. If Obama don’t get in there, we hit. Republicans not looking out for us, they looking out for the rich.

Hobson: Now, your state has a primary coming up next week on the Republican side. Have you been watching any of that stuff going on?

Kearns: I watch it, but I ain’t voting for ’em.

Hobson: What have you heard from them?

Kearns: I ain’t heard nothing from them. I’ve been getting Democratic mail and stuff, but no Republican.

Hobson: They haven’t been down here on Dodge street?

Kearns: I haven’t seen ’em.


Hobson:Well now, we have come to the home of the Dodge name. This is where Horace Dodge, the automobile pioneer lived. This is Grosse Pointe, Mich. It’s a very fancy suburb of Detroit, and we’re going to ask people here how they think things are going.

Jim Thompson: My name is Jim Thompson.

Hobson: How long have you lived here in Grosse Pointe?

Thompson: Only 36 years.

Hobson: 36 years — and how has it changed over the years?

Thompson: It’s more interesting. It’s a more interesting city; there’s much more going on, and I like it.

Hobson: How has it changed since the recession really got going a few years ago?

Thompson: Property values have dropped by 47 percent, so I think everybody’s got to sort of pull back a little bit and take a close look at what’s important.

Hobson: How do you think the economy is doing right now? Is there a recovery going on, or what do you think?

Thompson: Right now, it’s not bad. But look out for three big new taxes coming up in January, plus the raises that they have proposed in the new budget. So no, I think there’s big problems ahead of us.

ig problems. And who do you blame those problems on, if anybody?

Hobson: So there’s a primary next week. Are you going to be voting in it?

Thompson: Absolutely, we’ve already voted.

Hobson: And who did you vote for?

Thompson: Oh, that’s confidential.

Thompson: Somebody with experience that knows what they’re talking about. They have done it before — that they’ve actually run something, that have had hands on experience. And that’s what I’m looking for.


Hobson: So we’ve heard about the two extremes in and around Detroit. But do the people worried about their property values in Grosse Pointe feel any connection to the people worried about their jobs just ten miles away on Dodge street.

Micheline Maynard: My sense is that they drive through that part of Detroit — if they ever drive through it — as quickly as possible.

Micheline Maynard is senior editor at Changing Gears, which reports on the future of the Midwest economy.

Maynard: And this has always been an issue with Detroit. When you were kind of at the lower end of it, you did the best you could. But once you climbed out of it, you kind of turned your back on what was back there.

One big problem now is that Michigan’s modern economy is one of slimmed down auto makers and weakened unions.

Economist Charles Ballard at Michigan State University says, that economy doesn’t provide a ticket to the middle class like it once did.

Charles Ballard: We still are dealing with some of the lingering after effects of being victims of our success from 50 years ago. We built this economy where a person with only a high school education could get upper middle class wages and benefits. That’s almost entirely gone, and yet we still lag behind the national average in terms of the educational attainment of our population.

And the rebound that’s being seen in the auto industry isn’t going to help a worker who’s not properly educated. The new jobs will be jobs that require new skills that have to be learned.

And the promises from politicians about a rising tide that will lift all boats? Here’s what Ballard says about those:

Ballard:We’re going to hear people on both sides, I think, saying: I want to grow the economy. Well, we’ve proven in the United States in the last 40 years that we can grow the economy. The challenge is finding economic growth that shares its benefits widely.

Back on Dodge street, Vanetta Kearns isn’t buying the promises, but she does have a message for politicians — if they’ll listen.

Kearns: Get yourselves together. I mean, instead of fighting against each other, just make things meet. Go half and half — something. Not just one sided; look out for everybody, because we’re all here.

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