The Correlation Between Unemployment and Poverty in the City of Flint

As many people are aware, Flint, Michigan is in a state of emergency because of high levels of lead that has been leaking into the water. An Emergency Manager that was appointed by the State of Michigan because we were so financially burdened. The job of the Emergency manager was to balance our budget and in doing so he had to decide what got cut. One of his decisions was to cut our water from the Detroit pipeline that got its water from Lake Huron and switch it to build our own pipeline that would save a lot of money in the long run. However, this would take time so in the mean time the Flint River would have to do. Anyone who knows Flint would tell you that the Flint River is disgusting. People are constantly throwing pollutants in the river and almost everything has been pulled out of the river including vehicles and sadly, bodies. So you can imagine why there was an uproar from residents when the switch was announced. A few months later people reported that the water quality was poor, smelled, and was often discolored. Ever since then it has been an uphill battle for the residents of Flint and their fight for clean water. I chose to include this excerpt because it analyzes the history of the financial struggle of Flint beginning with General Motors sudden withdrawal from the city and the domino effect that was caused including high unemployment, poverty, and crime rates.

There is a direct link from the presence of the past to the Flint Water Crisis and it has had a very negative impact on the City of Flint. The cause of the unemployment rate increase was because GM wanted to expand and the corporation focused on the goal and decided that any casualties left behind were for the betterment of the company. Who would focus on the betterment of the city of Flint, MI? The birthplace and home to General Motors and the people who helped build it from the beginning. “GM started setting up factories in Mexico and dramatically reduced its operations in Flint. By 2006 GM employed just 8,000 people in Flint, according to Flint’s city manager” (Fuchs). Like many other companies such as Burger King, General Motors looked for cheaper labor in foreign countries and subsequently would avoid paying taxes since it had property other places than the United States. Six years later, as of 2012, “according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Flint’s unemployment rate rests as 16.0 percent” (Fuchs). The data below provided by the United States Department of Labor provides the unemployment rate from 1990 – 2014. It shows the many ups and downs caused by General Motors’ decreasing job numbers. The turn around for work is not very quick when most of the workers only have a high school diploma in a job market that requires degrees. There is a gradual decrease in the unemployment rate until the spike in 1998. That year was the famous UAW sit down strike when thousands did not work. Another spike, more gradual, began in 2008. In an article in 2009, Melissa Burden wrote, “the city’s unemployment rate hit 27.3 percent in May, up more than three percentage points from the month before.” The rate at which unemployment was rising was due to one of the lasts plants standing in Flint, Delphi, declaring for bankruptcy in 2005 and announcing plans to close by 2008. The plant did not end up closing until 2013 but many people were laid off during that period and it made the unemployment numbers slowly start to rise.

After the decline of jobs present because of the demolishing and closing of mostly all General Motors plants in the city, “white flight” began to take place. With the impact of “white flight” and “no major industry in Flint, the city’s unemployment and poverty rates have soared as many people have fled the city” (Fuchs). Most whites moved to suburban communities and rural areas leaving the urban inner city to decrease in value. This caused “ill-conceived expressways that tore apart the social capital that was needed to mount an effective local response to these crisis” (Boyce). By itself, white flight can cause a serious domino effect including property value decreasing, loss of business in the local community, and a high rise in prices, unemployment, and crime among other things. “There were nearly 125,000 people living there in 2000, but that number declined to roughly 101,000 by 2011” (Fuchs). It is apparent that Flint has become a place where people do not want to live. This very epidemic alone creates hard times for the people who still reside in the city.

The combination hit of General Motors moving its plant locations out of Flint and the white flight that followed sent the residents of Flint, Michigan into a downward spiral. Poverty hit the streets of Flint hard and by 2012, “more than 38 percent of people there live below the poverty level, according to the most recent census numbers” (Fuchs). Just a year later in 2013, Flint had the second highest poverty rate in Michigan, following Detroit. “The Census defines poverty as an income below 18,480 for a two-parent household with one child. For a one parent with one child, its 15,825” (Thorne). These are scary numbers when the exact information for what qualifies as poverty is explained. The graph below, provided by the United States Census Bureau shows the state of Michigan as a whole and its steady rise of the poverty rate.

Following unemployment and poverty is an increase in crime. Flint Michigan has held the title of the “Most Dangerous City in America” on more than one occasion and it has been in the top ten ever since the report first began. Green attempts to explain the link between economics and crime in the most violent cities. He states, “a number of cities have long faced major financial crises, public service shortages and population drains”. This is Flint in a nutshell. We have had an ongoing financial epidemic; even years after GM left the city. During 2012 when Flint was “yet again the nation’s most-violent large city according to preliminary data for the first half of 2012 released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Mayor Dayne Walling explained that “The city’s crime is rooted in social and economic problem and is exacerbated by the prevalence of illegal guns and drugs”. (Ridley) Walling thinks that the city’s future depends on drastically reducing crime and violence but the facts show that reducing unemployment rates and poverty would bring a reduction of crime in Flint. The graph below from the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows the murder rates from 1985 – 2012. The peak begins around 2008 – 2009 just like the unemployment and poverty rate. It is more than coincidence that 2008 seemed to be the point of no return for Flint in all-socioeconomic aspects. The overall crime rate in the city of Flint is very similar to this chart. It does a fine job of showing other dangerous cities compared to Flint..

The socioeconomic impact connects all of these factors simply because of the financial crisis in Flint. The domino effect that General Motors started during the year of 2008 has left the city in a virtual ruin. GM decided to close factories and move out of the city, which then caused people to be laid off, and the unemployment rate was raised. Not only GM worker were being laid off but city workers all over as the budget begin to get smaller and smaller. “Flint only employed 122 police officers in 2012, down from 265 five years earlier because of budget cuts” (Fuchs) When people do not have jobs in an economy that is in recession the poverty rate rises. When people become desperate to survive by any means necessary a spike in crime starts, as people are willing to do illegal things to support their family. With less police officers patrolling the city, crime gets out of hand.

“Flint is best known for its principal industry, but its quickly gaining notoriety as a major crime center” (Fuchs). The “Vehicle City” slowly turned into the “Most Dangerous City in America” by an unfortunate series of events. The deindustrialization of GM left an unimaginable predicament for the city of Flint that caused the city to fail as a whole for a number of years. Today, Flint is not a complete waste and I am proud to say that we are making strides to overcome our bad name. Just recently while finishing my research, I found an article that exclaimed, “the financial emergency in the city of Flint has been resolved and a Receivership Transition Advisory board has been appointer to ensure smooth transition to local control and continued financial stability for the city, Gov. Rick Snyder said,” as of April 30, 2015 (Emergency). This was our second financial emergency resolution in the past ten years and I think a lot more is going to have to be addressed in order to stay away from needing an Emergency Manager. Hopefully the plans ensued by Ambrose will be the start we need to rebuild our socio-economy and our reputation.


Works Cited

“Emergency Manager says Flint’s Financial Emergency is Resolved” Emergency Manager – City of Flint. City of Flint, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Fuchs, Christina Sterbenz and Erin. “How Flint, Michigan Became The Most Dangerous City In America.”Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 16 June 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2016

Ridley, Gary. “Flint Is Most-violent Large City in the Nation, According to Preliminary 2012 FBI Data.” MLive. Flint Journal, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Thorne, Blake. “Flint Has State’s Second-highest Child Poverty Rate in 2012, Says U.S. Census.” MLive. Flint Journal, 28 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

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