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Trouble in Detroit as car powerhouse becomes capital of scrap

Published time: August 22, 2011 07:53
Edited time: August 22, 2011 13:01

US, Detroit: The General Motors world headquarters building is shown behind a homeless person's shanty (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images / AFP)

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US car manufacturers received bail-out money and are now reporting profits, but the financial recovery of America’s car makers is not filtering down to the streets of the country's once-booming automotive capital.

­ Detroit increasingly looks like a ghost town with its residents literally surviving on scraps, while once it was a city that symbolized America’s innovation and manufacturing might.

Today Detroit is the third most violent city in the US, with unemployment estimated to be as high as 50 per cent.

According to officials, the once glamorous "motor city" now has more people living in poverty than cars on the streets.

The editor of Detroit’s Michigan Citizen, Zenobia Jeffries, explains: “We are seeing home foreclosures and a continued flight to the suburbs which takes the tax base away from the city and there’s more and more of that. The decline in the school system is making people leave the city. And so there’s no money here and no jobs here.”

And the US census shows that a quarter of a million people have left Detroit in the past ten years.

The economic scars on this once-vibrant city are impossible to miss. Around 60,000 vacant buildings and 35,000 abandoned homes line the streets of Detroit, hollow shells of America’s former middle class, which have ignited an industry of scrappers. They are people who eke out a living by stripping these former homes of their copper and steel pipes as a means of income.

Scrappers swap ruins for profit at yards like this one – the Downriver Scrap Iron & Metal Co – just five miles out of Detroit. Owner Albert Wojtala says he sees new faces every day.

“With the little money they get, they’re trying to survive, pay their bills. They just can’t make it – everything has gone to hell,” he says.

Even more hellish is the sight of a city looting itself. Landmark buildings and foreclosed homes are gutted for survival.

In addition to scrappers, an increasing number of cash-strapped working Americans are trading goods for greenbacks.

Mike Szczepanski, an employee at Downriver Scrap Iron & Metal Co., told RT he has just talked to “a guy in a Lexus, with a suit and tie, who wanted to trade a little brass lamp. He doesn’t look like the recycling type of guy. He’s broke, short of money.”

The US president promised things would be better for America’s car-making capital after the 2009 US$ 50 billion dollar bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.

“Our auto makers are in the midst of their strongest period of job growth in more than a decade,” announced Barack Obama on November 10, 2010.
“Since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the industry has created more than 75,000 new jobs. For the first time in six years, Ford, GM and Chrysler are all operating at a profit,” he said.

GM has reported six straight quarterly profits and Chrysler’s revenue is said to be up by 30 per cent – nearly US$ 14 billion – from last year.

Critics say corporate success in Detroit has not produced the jobs that were promised.

“What about bailing the people out? You bailed out the corporations, you bailed out the banks. It doesn’t mean a whole lot because the people who are in the city still don’t get those jobs. Those jobs are still being outsourced,” Zenobia Jeffries revealed.

In this once-great industrial beacon of the American ideal, where Henry Ford pioneered production of the famous Model-T, police and fire stations now stand abandoned as many Americans are reduced to dealing in scrap just to make ends meet.

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