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Not Only In Detroit

One of the little-discussed problems with Detroit serving as the focal point for so much outrage statewide, and nationally, is that the poor condition of our city tends to overshadow problems elsewhere in Michigan -- even to people who live amid those problems. Obsessing over urban ills makes it easy for some folks to rail about, say, "drugs in the city" while ignoring or downplaying rampant drug use in the suburbs from which those same ranters lob their myopic diatribes.

Likewise, when it comes to poverty, most people tend to think of Wayne County, where Detroit is located, as the most impoverished place in all of Michigan, thanks to the well-publicized struggles of the city. As it turns out, though, that isn't so. According a new report, the worst poverty lies in the rural areas of our state.

Three counties in the northern half of Michigan's Lower Peninsula — Clare, Lake and Roscommon — had child poverty rates above 32 percent, the highest rates in the state. Children in rural counties also were more likely to be covered by Medicaid and be eligible for free or reduced price school lunch programs.

"It's pretty stark, when you look at it, to see what's happening in these rural areas," said Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Michigan League for Human Services, a partner in the report. "And there's not a lot of attention paid to it."

Part of the reason why it's too often ignored, I think, is because it's so much easier for some folks to pass poverty, crime, drug use, etc., off as a city (read: "black") problem. Pitying or being pissed off at those folks "over there" becomes simpler when you think of them as being beset by problems that you don't have. But it's all a lie.

I dug the way the folks at Dyspathy put a pin in that bubble when mentioning the new Kids Count report:

Turns out that all of our pastoral small towns populated by humble, God-fearing real ‘mericans are cesspools of poverty. And probably meth. You're better off growing up in Herman Gardens compared to rural Michigan. Clearly, the government should build more prisons so the good people on Main Street USA can work as prison guards. It's not socialism when it benefits rural folks. Otherwise this most special jewel of false nostalgia will continue to be a place where hopelessly poor people beat their kids.

The truth is, we're all catching hell in Michigan, and none of us can afford to point fingers or talk trash. Sure, Detroit may have pneumonia -- but there are plenty of other places around this state with a worsening case of whooping cough, and acting like we're not all sick won't change that. Think, for instance, that Detroit schoolkids are inept because of their record low scores on the NAEP? Well, consider that Michigan as a state lags behind the nation on that same test.

Nationally, 30 states scored higher than Michigan among fourth-graders. Tops were Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota; at the bottom were Mississippi and Alabama.


In eighth-grade rankings, 31 states scored higher than Michigan. The best states were Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont. Mississippi and Alabama were the worst among eighth-graders.

It's going to take all of us to get these problems under control, and in that regard, the calls for regional cooperation are critical and long overdue. For Michigan to have a brighter future, we've all got to row toward tomorrow together.

But first, we need to stop acting like we're not all in the same boat.

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  • 1

    Yawn..nothing new here..of course white folks have issues...Everyone knows this including white folks no doubt reason why they like to deflect and scapegoat..


  • 2

    This is true throughout the nation, not just in Michigan. Rural areas have higher substance abuse rates and, for all the griping one common poster here does, the highest teenage pregnancy rates are out someplace in Utah, not in an urban area!
    If a certain TIME journalist had the balls he should do a story on the relative wealth and poverty of, say, the NYC and Detroit regions, or the Washington DC and Detroit regions, or San Francisco and the Detroit region. Michigan has been a tax donor state for decades - our generated wealth being redistributed to other regions, often used to give tax breaks in efforts to lure our jobs, too - while our overall wealth slides - nobody outside of Michigan has a basis to bitch about any funding being returned to Detroit or Michigan for a change.

    • Thanks for expanding on this. I think, as the Dyspathy quote so harshly but accurately points out, that there are rural outposts in this state (and nation) that are probably worse off in many ways than some of Detroit's roughest neighborhoods. And yet many of us continue to harbor these false idyllic notions about rural life versus the city experiences.
    • Part of this, I think, is just because of what the city has historically represented, whether that be Paris, Berlin or Detroit: danger, new experiences, growth, modernization. But whatever the reason, I think that outlook, that fear, has metastasized into something far worse in this country.
    • I'm not sure where you're going with the comment about journalists and balls, but I'm not at all averse to a conversation about wealth and power in Michigan (or Detroit) vis a vis other comparable places. I too think we get the short shrift when you consider the wealth we've created here and abroad.
    • That's why I was so intrigued by JoAnn Watson's call for a Detroit "Marshall Plan." Again, whether you like her or not,the idea of the government coming to the aid of a city and state that have given so much to the nation isn't as patently absurd as some contend.
    • Thanks for jumping in.
  • 3


    Are you referring to Gray???? Your statement is provocative.....

  • 4


    Still no happy pill yet huh????

  • 5

    I generally agree with what you write but I really feel like you're off base here. Detroit's problems are a bigger story than the rest of Michigan because it affects a great deal more people, not because we view it as a black problem. Clare, Lake, and Roscommon County's have a population of less than 100,000 combined, while Detroit is almost 800,000. Detroit's problems and potential turnaround are something that affect the entire state. That's why we care; that's why we're passionate. I don't think there is anyone in the state that would deny that we're all going through some serious trouble right now.

  • Darrell Dawsey
    January 13, 2010
    at 6:08 am
  • 6


    Happy Pills?? SO this is where you are on this site the need to engaged in petty personal posts...Please step up and offer better posts and get over your penis envy of my comments in here...

    I have seen this often on chat forums whenever some posters cannot measure up or they lack the skill set to reason and offer concrete counter talking points they then start to engage in personal attacks..

    I am also troubled by Darrell 's shots as well ( Holier than thou)..What was that al about Darrell??

    In any event I enjoy depositing dissent, alternative and progressive comments on this site . I like my cultural dna and I know others respect and like my posts as well...

    I will proceed accordingly whenever/wherever/however....

  • 7

    I agree with siu44, and might even go further. Not only is racism a real problem in Michigan, expecially in attitides toward the city, but the fact that people in the city cry racism, sometimes too quickly, is also a problem, because this name calling is just a dead end. It only breeds more distrust in an area where people really need to come together. I would hope a professional reporter would be able to find a way to rise above reporting on name calling and stop being part of the problem.

    By the way, Darrel does make some good points, and he makes me think the 1 year Time commitment to Detroit isn't big enough to be meaningful or even very interesting. How about Time take advantage of the down market and buy a few more Michigan houses and make a 5 year commitment to the entire state. I bet years 3-5 would be where the daily blog posts start to get boring and the same old tired stories have been told, and they start to discover some of the city's real stories

  • 8


    Yawn comprises up to 4 letters..My comments involved more than 4 letters...

    I am reminded of Shakespeare " "Brevity is the soul of wit.." is how I will respond to you

    Alas I have said to much already...tee hee

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