While the Detroit media continues to focus on the Motor City’s comeback, based almost entirely on glitzy new projects completed or underway in downtown and Midtown, yet another red flag is waving, warning that the city is bleeding.
A compilation of the best-run and worst-run cities, based on the overall performance of the 150 largest towns in the U.S., has found that Detroit ranks second-from-last, above only Washington, D.C. The beleaguered city of Flint, plagued by lead-contaminated water for more than four years, rates just above Detroit at 143rd.
The study by the WalletHub website that produced this dire news cuts through the celebrations of central city improvements, financed almost exclusively by wealthy corporate Motor City boosters such as Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family. The data also reflects a picture that extends far beyond the gains made in a few reviving neighborhoods, such as Corktown.
The research on the 150 cities, conducted by four university professors, found that Detroit and Flint reflect two urban areas in serious trouble.
Based on quality of city services, Detroit ranks last (150th), and Flint is 147th. With regard to violent crime rates, Detroit is 149th, and Flint is not far behind. Unemployment figures put Detroit at 149th and Flint at 150th (last). Poverty rates result in identical 149th/150th ranks for the two Michigan cities.
As for K-12 education, Detroit is listed at 129th and Flint at 134th. (The suburbs are not off the hook as Warren, Michigan’s third-largest city, ranked 116th in education quality.) In the category of financial stability, Detroit again languishes at 150th (last).
WalletHub, which specializes in compiling federal statistics to create a broad picture of America, fully explained their outlook heading into this deep dive into federal statistics:
Running a city is a tall order. The larger the city, the more complex it becomes to manage. In addition to representing the residents, local leaders must balance the public’s diverse interests with the city’s limited resources. That often means not everyone’s needs can or will be met. Leaders must carefully consider which services are most essential, which agencies’ budgets to cut or boost and whether and how much to raise taxes, among other decisions.
But how do we measure the effectiveness of local leadership? One way is by determining a city’s operating efficiency. In other words, we can learn how well city officials manage and spend public funds by comparing the quality of services residents receive against the city’s total budget.
Using that approach, WalletHub compared the operating efficiency of 150 of the largest U.S. cities to reveal which among them are managed best. We constructed a “Quality of Services” score made up of 35 metrics grouped into six service categories, which we then measured against the city’s per-capita budget.
In addition, caveats must be recognized within any study of this magnitude. When examining the 150 most-populated cities, the range of municipalities becomes quite broad. For example, Rutland, Vermont, had the fewest violent crimes (per 1,000 residents), 0.50, which is 40.9 times fewer than in Detroit, the city with the most at 20.47. Obviously, Motown and Rutland have virtually nothing in common.
Yet, not surprisingly given all of the Detroit/Flint maladies, both Michigan cities suffer significantly from people fleeing their towns.
A new study of outward migration among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas by 24/7 Wall Street has found that Detroit and Flint rank among the bottom 10 in losses due to population movement.
The Flint area ranked 8th-worst, with a decline of 22,658 people moving out of the city from 2010-2017 – a downslide that began long before the Flint water crisis. In Metro Detroit, most of the media focus targets the ongoing flow of residents from the city to the suburbs. But the overall region has witnessed a 54,640 reduction in population due to people fleeing the region.
24/7 Wall Street, a website that engages in data-driven stories and lists, much like WalletHub, found that the metro areas suffering most from residents moving away can primarily be found in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, particularly in states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and New York. Among the cities where people are leaving in droves are places such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, New York, and Los Angeles.
Mayor Mike Duggan and other city leaders must decide whether the influx of people into downtown and Midtown trumps the ongoing slide in the rest of this massive city’s devastated neighborhoods.