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One More Slap in the Face

It was during one of my marathon late-night news sessions when the thought came to me: We're being punished for living in Detroit.

The story I was watching was about the growing budget deficit at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This grand musical tradition is like almost every organization in Southeast Michigan these days – living in the red and wondering how to get out.

The DSO reported on Thursday that it ended its recent fiscal year with a $3.7 million deficit; that compares to a shortfall of $500,000 from the year before. Much of the blame is the drop in corporate donations. According to reports, the orchestra's business support fell by half to $1.59 million compared to $3.29 million in 2008.

So how does the orchestra plan on solving the problem? No, they're not appealing to the corporations. And there are no plans for a massive fund-raising campaign among the public. The executive director said she is trying to get the musicians to reopen their contract. Salaries, which make up most of the DSO's budget, must be cut, management said.

Sheesh, methinks. Granted, the whole nation is in trouble. The recession has left a bloody trail behind it as companies and families slash budgets. I'm sure other orchestras are cutting back. And I'm aware that things like music are a luxury when many folks here cannot even afford heat, housing or food.

What gets me (and probably those DSO employees) is that this mentality feels like one more tax, one more pinch, one more slap to those of us who choose to remain here.

Earlier this month, the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University released new data on what it called the “Michigan exodus.” According to its research, Michigan has lost more people each year as jobs evaporated, with 9,388 fewer in 2005; 34,088 in 2006; and 46,368 in 2007. Rhode Island, the only other state to lose population in that period, lost only 2,000 over those three years.

The data shows that much of the population decline was triggered by manufacturing job losses, especially from the auto industry in Southeastern Michigan. Wayne County lost more than 100,000 residents out of approximately 2 million, or one in 20 people between 2000 and 2008. Not all left the state – some simply moved to other counties.

But Wayne County's exodus of residents (111,232) for this period was second only to Orleans Parish in Louisiana (172,821) following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. From 2006 to 2008, Wayne County charted the highest population loss per year in the nation.

“Such population loss can mean an economic vortex for a city like Detroit,” said Soji Adelaja, lead author of the new study charting the impacts of Michigan's population loss and director of the Land Policy Institute at MSU. “Fewer people mean fewer tax revenues to provide city services. Fewer city services mean lower quality of life for people. So people are faced with tough decisions: Stick it out, or leave.”

Those who choose to stick it out – like the DSO's small group of 85 musicians – are left to pay the price. In my mind, they are penalized for trying to keep Michigan going.

Not that people like me are helping the situation. Before children arrived, my classical music-loving husband and I frequently attended DSO events. We stopped going because it was too hard to find babysitters. These days, we'd probably make the argument that babysitters – plus DSO tickets – are too expensive.

That's in part because Husband took a pay cut earlier this year when General Motors went into bankruptcy. GM turned off its 401(k) contributions, added new health-insurance costs and took away vacation days as well. We slogged through all of it, confident that the company would survive this time and come back fighting. (Did I mention the stock we purchased just before the automotive giant spiraled into bankruptcy? It seemed like a good idea at the time…really…it did.)

A lot of those concessions were temporary, I'm happy to report. And my family is doing just fine; I have nothing to complain about. But I'm still left with the feeling that many who live here (and plan to stay here) will give up far more than they will receive in the months and years (even decades?) to come.

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