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Detroit is Dying… Quickly (freakonomics.com)
92 points by cwan on Mar 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

As a lifelong resident of the Rust Belt, stories detailing its deterioration are hardly new, sadly, so these stories aren't of particular interest to me. What I do find interesting are the people who are sticking around, trying to rebuild the city they grew up in. Although these stories are rarer (and riddled with narcissistic entreporn fodder for INC magazine and its ilk), they do offer some hope.

This article mentions that Pittsburgh has also seen significant decreases in population over this decade. Pittsburgh is often used as the model city for rust belt rebirth. They were the big player in steel, lost the steel industry, and were able to rebrand themselves. They are considered by most to be the most tech-friendly city in the rust belt. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that Pittsburgh did a better job in attracting businesses outside of steel when they still had the luxury of steel.

Having Carnegie Mellon doesn't hurt either. Most cities in the Rust Belt cannot worry about attracting talent because they are hemorrhaging talent. Instead these cities have to focus their attention and resources on retention. With CMU, Pittsburgh gets the benefit of bringing in some quality students who may stay within the community after graduation.

The US Census version of "Detroit" is the area within the city limits. It has been "dying" since since the '68 riots, due to a combination of white flight, decline of manufacturing, and subsequent decline in retail, services, and civic engagement. All of which leads to more people leaving -- often going just 5-20 miles, into the suburbs.

In real life, to most southeast Michiganders, "Detroit" is a much larger area encompassing dozens of neighboring suburbs. That Detroit continued growing into the late '90s. The effects of the economic downturn were visible there long before the big 2008 crash (mostly in housing prices and boarded-up storefronts on suburban main streets), but its overall population decline has been much less dramatic than 25% in 10 years.

The "dying" talk is overblown. Cities ebb and flow. Manhattan in the 1970's, anyone? This is a very low ebb for the Detroit area, but it'll come back. All the way? Probably not -- being the central hub of a world industry was a bit of a historical fluke. But there's a foundation of engineers, designers, and other educated white-collar types -- along with the vestiges of a blue-collar middle class -- to build upon.

When I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago, the Hollywood area was a wasteland. So was downtown. Old Town Pasadena was gang territory. Echo Park is where you went to get shot. Now all of those areas -- and many dozens more -- are bustling and in various stages of gentrification.

I was going to make the same basic point. I think people on the outside will look at things like this and say "dying" when things are mostly moving across 8 mile. "Detroit" [e.g. Metro Detroit] is very spread out and this is just a trend, like you say, that has been happening since the 60s.

Being spread out, there are many great places to live that happen to be outside of the city limits. It's not as if all of those people are leaving the area entirely (although that is happening to some extent, too).

It's overblown until we get the 2010 data for the tri-county Metro Detroit area. In 2000 that pop was 3.9M. If it rose in the last 10 years I would be very surprised. BTW I am a former Oakland County resident.

I, too, would be surprised if the Metro Detroit population rose, based on what I've heard from friends still in the area. But I'd be even more surprised if it declined by 25%.

Not saying that the area's not in trouble. It is. But the difference between "in trouble" and "dying" is significant.

Here's this information in graphical form: https://spreadsheets.google.com/oimg?key=0AmvRYjkKmN-udGpOZk...

Note that this includes only the white/black/asian numbers, and the total is adjusted accordingly.

Very interesting to view the chart of the percentages for different ethnicities: https://spreadsheets.google.com/oimg?key=0AqDMNINEecZvdEZWOT...

Note: this chart includes "Others or Mixed", but not "Foreign Born" which to subset of the other categories (i.e. some from each category are foreign born).

Also made a chart like yours with "Others or Mixed" included to match the percentage chart above: https://spreadsheets.google.com/oimg?key=0AqDMNINEecZvdEZWOT...

A much more interesting chart is here:


Notice the blue areas of 20% growth. These are areas where young people are moving in. Around downtown and the midtown area near Wayne State.

Tricky color scheme. What bizarre thinking leads to using dark red to represent less loss than light red? It doesn't even line up with using dark blue to represent more gain than light blue.

The data the chart is representing is interesting though; I don't mean to imply that you were wrong about that.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to say. Can you put a comment with your link?

The original article says that Detroit has gone through economic changes and he is just pointing out that it has gone through demographic changes as well. I don't think he needs to add any comments to it, the link speaks for itself

Changes in age and education levels might be interesting, but that article only covers race. What value does it add to the conversation?

Reading this thread, the historical demographic trends were very interesting. Do you think they are irrelevant? If so, please explain why.

Very interesting that from at least the 1850s right up until the 1930s more than a third of the population were immigrants. I would say most of these were from Canada, based on my own study of immigration patterns and knowing it was extremely easy to immigrate from Canada to the US during that period.

Also very interesting that population peaked in the 1950s even though the American auto industry did not go into decline until the 1960s.

> Reading this thread, the historical demographic trends were very interesting. Do you think they are irrelevant? If so, please explain why.

I'll bite. I don't find skin color particularly interesting, nor am I interested in it as a demographic distinction. I think skin color is used as a proxy indicator for things like culture, class, and income. I believe this is generally for expediency's sake (i.e. it is easy to measure and observe).

Ignoring the expediency benefits, I think the focus on skin color and comments such as yours perpetuate the distinction's hold on our global psyche, to our global detriment.

I'm torn on this issue. Socioeconomic class is of towering importance, and has been neglected in favor of pure race for far too long; but racism is very real, and remains a potent force worldwide. It is counter-productive, I think, to look through either lens exclusively.

What specifically is it about my comment that you found to "perpetuate the distinction's hold on our global psyche, to our global detriment"?

At least with education, There is a strong correlation between race and education, namely blacks are less likely to be well-educated than whites. Connect that with income and you are not only seeing a drop in population, but very likely a steep drop in overall tax revenue necessary for Detroit to rebuild itself.

The people leaving Detroit are mostly white, so not only is population going down but the city is becoming "blacker".

No, mostly black people are leaving Detroit. Most of the "white flight" occurred in the 1970's and 1980's.

Actually, if you take a look at the chart, you'll see that the population of black people is stable from the 80s to the 00s, and has only been reducing in the past 10 years. Versus the white population that has been halving every 10 years since the 70s.

For comparison, the 2010 numbers that correspond with (some of) this list — from the US Census American Fact Finder: http://bit.ly/dIfLJN

You can probably dig up other useful figures if you poke around enough: http://factfinder2.census.gov/ (it’s listed under "Detroit city, Michigan")

Striking how quickly the population has dwindled over the past twenty years.

that's... interesting. Are there other examples of this kind reciprocal pattern in US (or maybe Canada)?

he's implying that black people are killing detroit. Look at the population of whites to blacks from 1820 to 2000.

No he's not. Correlation is not causation.

ie. just because Detroit is going through economic changes and the proportion of black people in Detroit has increased across the same period, that does not necessarily mean those black people are responsible for said economic changes.

I wasn't implying anything. I was linking to data that I found interesting. Black populations have been increasing (though have recently plateaued). It's the whites that have been decreasing since ~1950.

When I looked at the link I thought he was trying to show that Detroit's been in decline for a long time. I guess it's like a Rorschach ink blot.

That was my assumption, but also why I asked for clarification. I try not to take the worst possible interpretation as truth. But if that's the case, I would just point out Atlanta. It's half-black and doing fine. So it'd be silly to claim.

"Blackness" seems like a poor metric for economic vibrancy.

When I moved from Europe to America, my neighborhood went black. White flight seemed to kill all the businesses around my neighborhood. The "Blackness" of an area can't be ignored but it doesn't account for Detroit's problems.

America has "black" problems that Europe may not have.

look Europe has a problem in accepting non western cultures, lets not enter into that useless debate here on HN..

Europe does. But I realize the way that I put it was not constructive.

There is no debate. In Europe, they have a problem of communication between classes. In America, we have a problem of communication between communities. One society is not better than the other. That is same tired old "debate" that we should avoid here.

...Or possible Detroit is the first of many American cities to go through an as yet unpredictable transformation. Stories like this discount the potentially positive effect this kind of 'reset' can have on a city. Let's face it - Detroit had lost its way a long time before all this economic turmoil sent many of us in a tailspin.

But of course sensational headlines like this get the most attention.

Yeah, I heard a story this morning saying that Detroit now has enough empty space that some other large cities could fit inside it.

The first thing I thought was "what a great opportunity to create parks and greenways!" Even if they don't have the money to develop them right now, the land will be super cheap. Doing some of this and announcing plans for more would surely draw some business and development. "Look, you can have offices here, and workers can ride their bikes through a forest from their homes!"

I know you're trying to be positive here, but this is one of my biggest sticking points when talking about Detroit.

The collapse of detroit is a catastrophic failure in what is supposed to be a well-run country. There's no real consensus on what went wrong and how to fix it, and worse, most people don't really seem to care.

In some neighborhoods, house values have dropped to $300. "Enough empty space that some other large cities could fit inside it". With that kind of exodus and drop in value, you'd think there was a Chernobyl there, but there wasn't. Just a completely unexplained failure of management.

So yeah, parks and greenways are great, but don't overlook the massive failure that allowed that. Chernobyl is now an amazing wildlife preserve.

I don't think I'd be the only person outside the US to be thoroughly intrigued by the opportunities provided by $300 houses. I'm in Adelaide (AU) which is about as far from anywhere in the world as most places and house prices here are crippling.

I know a $300 house is going to be a shithole in the middle of nowhere but you could buy 1,500 of those shitholes for the land value alone of one place in a mid-range suburb here!

Does anyone else dream of buying up a suburb, fencing it off and creating a CoD Nuketown-style paintball arena?

$300 plus $4000 per year in taxes, that's the real story here

That's equal to $333/month in rent. It might not be such a bad deal if utilities are reasonable.

Rent and utilities are only part of the story. I'm reminded of that old saw about what are the most important factors in real estate:

1. location

2. location

3. location

Location effects many important things, including the number and quality of neighbors, what sorts of things happen after dark, and generally what will be considered "normal" in the local culture. You can change a lot of things about a property after you buy it, do a lot of fixups, remodelling, heck even totally tear down and build up a new house on the land. But you'll have a much harder time changing the sorts of neighbors and larger community you'll have. Especially over the short/medium term.

When the house next door is also $300, I can quickly become my own neighbour... ;)

Just out of interest, what does that $4k cover?

Here, council rates are about $1k/year and include a levy or two. They're based on property value to some degree.

And many thousands more to tear the house down.

Paintballers would take care of that! (I can see insurance being a problem though.)

> Does anyone else dream of buying up a suburb, fencing it off and creating a CoD Nuketown-style paintball arena?

there's a joke here somewhere about parts of it already being a CoD Nuketown-style paintball arena. except not with paintballs.

I think it's more tricky than pure management failure. A heavily manufacturing based city such as Detroit was going to suffer this fate eventually; I think the biggest failing was ignoring the warning signs for so long. It's not like people didn't know that the bulk of manufacturing jobs were being shipped elsewhere.

And I don't think it's such a mystery either; as the big 3 go, so goes Detroit (or so it use to be). The hard economic times sped this collapse along probably sooner than people were ready to deal with.

Still I think this is an opportunity not just for Detroit but for our entire nation. Solving this problem is key to moving America back on track - this is not just an isolated problem of 'Detroit'.

If fact, for some time now I've wondered what happens when we automate all jobs out of existence. The writing is on the walls, really, it's not like you can't automate almost everything with enough technology and brainpower.I think in the long run we will become a nation of creative artists - and by that I don't mean purely 'art', but rather anything that needs to be made that others take pleasure in.

Think about it this way - we all have a nearly insatiable desire for new interesting things. And out of all the things we humans do, I think creativity is probably the only area that can't easily (or possibly ever) be automated.

What this means from an economic standpoint I have no clue, but it seems inevitable that we all end up out of 'work' at some point in the future.

I'm not saying things don't suck there; I just thought that was understood. But since they suck, hey look at this opportunity!

To your point about management: what do you mean? (I'm honestly asking.) Who should be in charge of making sure a town doesn't get lopsided with one industry, for example? And was that even a bad thing, considering how long things went well? Maybe in 20 years we'll look back and say "50 years of prosperity, 10 years of the dumps and now Detroit is doing great again. Not terrible."

I disagree strongly. Detroit's 30 glory years were the exception and they have long past (let's say 1940-1970). Now that so many countries have advanced industrial infrastructure, it's just another really cold place to live.

What kind of management alternatives would you suggest? I suppose a different policy regarding balance of trade might have been impactful but it's too late now.

Rich environmentalists should consider buying up cheap land to create nature reserves.

Have you ever flown over Michigan? It's already a nature preserve. You don't really need one in the middle of Detroit.

Nature in Michigan is astonishingly boring anyhow. I am not kidding. We have very few native plants, very few native animals, very few native birds and frogs and so on. My wife majored in zoology at MSU and one of the assignments was to memorize all the names and sounds of frogs in Michigan, and the professor commented on how easy that was relative to most states. You can't even blame EVIL MAN, most of the state is basically untouched. A few of the larger mammals were driven extinct or chased away but most of the lack of biodiversity was here when we got here.

Michigan isn't the valley or the east coast. Dropping a nature preserve in the middle of Detroit isn't giving Michigan wildlife its last bastion against the advance of EVIL MAN, it's increasing the land left to Nature in Michigan by fractions of a percent.

Great link-bait headline, but nothing more than the census numbers. I'm in Detroit. I just ate lunch at Slows, which was packed as usual. Detroit goes as does manufacturing, and the last decade was harsh. However, the city has increasingly more to offer, and it is coming back in bioscience, tech, the arts, and manufacturing, automotive and non-automotive.

The city might look like rock-bottom to outsiders, but something is brewing. In 5 years, the headline will be 'is Detroit making a comeback?'.

I actually think Detroit is about to see a huge resurgence. From what I understand, there are a lot of young, artist-type people moving there right now, which is exactly the type of people I think Detroit should be trying to attract.

This is true, many college grads and creatives are moving into the city. In addition, Quicken is moving their entire company downtown.

There are also some great incentives to live in the Midtown area, which is home to Wayne State University.

I think you're referring to Quicken Loans. Intuit, developer of Quicken software, don't seem to have any presence in Michigan.

Yes Quicken Loans, is known as Quicken around here. I am sorry if that was not obvious.

In 1960, it had the highest per-capita income in the U.S.

That's striking. It's almost hard to imagine that the city could have been so strong in the past.

Why? The city was HQ to the 3 auto companies. Oakland County, in the "Metro Detroit Area" is still one of the nicest + wealthiest counties in the Country.

It was in the top 5 a few years back, I am sure it's gone down a few spots since then.

Check out this video, pretty cool referencing the rise and fall (and rise again): http://vimeo.com/11021663

Does anyone else here this and then think about Silicon Valley?

Maybe it's just paranoia...

I've long maintained that Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the first half of the twentieth century. It was where enterpreneurs that wanted to make things settled.

My dad tells me stories of when he was a little boy in the twenties when the city was the best place on the planet to start a company and it was just bristling with entrepreneurs.

Sadly the city lost its way but it's starting to get it back. The destruction of Detroit is the easy story for the media however and the city's rise isn't being widely reported.

"the city's rise isn't being widely reported."

Where is the evidence of its rise?

I'm honestly curious. I plan to buy a plot of land, maybe a house, somewhere in the next year or two, and Detroit has been in consideration because of its incredibly low prices (I don't plan to live there full-time; I live in a motorhome and travel, but it'd be nice to have a plot that I own and know I can always go park on for as long as I like if I feel like settling somewhere for a month or two). Detroit has a cool history, in terms of music. But, it also seems to be a bad investment, right now...no matter how cheap something is, it can always go lower, and Detroit seems to still be trending downward.

If you want to get a taste watch this video series: http://bit.ly/aO1wFm There are a lot of entreprenurial groups and funds that just weren't there twelve months ago.

If you want a more boots on the ground feel attend Maker Faire this summer. I've spoken to some of the O'Reilly folks who were very nervous about last years Faire and were quite simply in their words "blown away" by Detroit in a positive way. Tim O'Reilly compared the Henry Ford museum to the equivalent of the Louvre.

Houses in Detroit are already selling for $1, How much lower can they go? Chinese investors are snapping up hundreds of houses. Locals are even buying them and flipping them to outsiders.


You have to decide for yourself if that sounds like a market that can still go lower.

"Houses in Detroit are already selling for $1"

Where can I find these one buck houses? Hell, I'd pay at least twice that.

Seriously, though, the lowest prices I see on craigslist right now, in the city, for an actual house, actually for sale, is $9900. Now, I'm not one to complain about a $9900 house on a reasonable chunk of land, but this one happened to have a gang tag on the garage door when I looked it up on google maps.

Sure, a can of paint is only ten bucks, but I can imagine a $9910 house going down in value. And, I don't want to park my motorhome in a place where it'll get vandalized...it costs a hell of a lot more than ten bucks to repaint a motorhome.

But, let's assume I come to Detroit this summer (I've been considering it) to look at houses. Where should I be shopping? What neighborhoods are centrally located, and coming up rather than going down? I kinda imagine the ideal neighborhood would be one filled with old folks. Old folks usually take pretty good care of their houses, they don't spray paint gang signs on garage doors, and they're mostly likeable mind-their-own-business sorts of people. A lot of the best neighborhoods in cities I've lived in have been older neighborhoods with older residents, that became hipster neighborhoods as the old folks passed on. That may just be selection bias...just the neighborhoods I liked and have seen grow (like East Austin, or the Montrose in Houston).

I'm not the most qualified to comment on this but I'll offer what I can:

In the city proper, I don't know that the 'old folks' thing will work well. The old folks still in Detroit in decent neighborhoods will not be areas with the cheap houses you are looking for (yes, there are some really nice areas in the city). The others probably left for nice areas outside of the city.

You'll probably want to look where the current wave of young people are moving to. I really don't know what these areas are but I'm sure you can look some up.

Midtown, with Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, is probably a good area. Don't know too much about it but Tech Town[1] is at WSU. They are offering incentives to get employees to move and live in Midtown. I don't know that you'll find any super cheap housing there.

You could also look somewhere like Ferndale. It's just on the other side of 8 mile and maybe a 10-15 minute drive from downtown. You won't find the super-cheap $300 houses but you can find a really good deal. It's a nice, young, liberal town just on the border. It's also next to Royal Oak, a little more expensive area where you'll find a lot of young professionals. So that covers centrally located, safe and cheap, not super-cheap, but also not in Detroit proper, which also means lower taxes (as far as I understand).

I guess it all depends on your motivation. Finding something super cheap, centrally located and safe will probably be difficult.

[1] http://techtownwsu.org/

"In the city proper, I don't know that the 'old folks' thing will work well. The old folks still in Detroit in decent neighborhoods will not be areas with the cheap houses you are looking for (yes, there are some really nice areas in the city)."

I don't mean "old, rich folks". East Austin was poor, mostly black and hispanic, and crime-ridden for decades before a resurgence began in the early 00s. But, a lot of the residents are still old folks who've lived through the whole process of decline and rebirth. Houston experienced white flight, and then began to recover in some of the older neighborhoods surrounding downtown (as far as I know downtown Houston is still a graveyard at night, and may not be fixable because there is no housing, the ground level streets are non-porous and have no shopping or nightlife). Same story, lots of older home owners that never left; their kids were grown when white flight happened, so they didn't feel as compelled to follow the good schools or were too poor to move or just didn't want to leave their home and stubbornly stuck around.

But, the rest of your answer is awesome, and is exactly what I was looking for. I don't actually need a house to cost $1 to consider it a good deal. But, it would take a really good price to get me to buy property in a place with weather as bad as Detroit. Hell, the place is unlivably cold six months out of the year, as far as this Texan is concerned. But, I'd consider buying to have a cheap summer parking place in a cool and interesting town, and if it happens to come with a house built in the 40s or 50s that I could renovate a bit, that's gravy.

Just thought of someone that might be a good contact for you to help scout out the area: Emily Doerr. She's opening a Hostel in Detroit. She's young and seems to be passionate about the city and bringing others in. I read an article about her in the Detroit Free Press but can only find a picture gallery on their site now.

Other people you could get in contact with are those doing urban farming.








If you want a good understanding of the Detroit neighborhoods read Model D http://www.modeldmedia.com/ In Detroit I'd look to the twenty somethings as they're the ones that are the urban pioneers. Where you see a lot of young people like Corktown or near Wayne State are worth investigating.

In contrast to downtown NW Detroit near Southfield and Grand River where I grew up houses are still in low six figures though half what they were a few years ago.. This is where you find the older folks. But you will also find the streets are a bit narrow for an SUV ;<).

Good luck and happy hunting!

For God's sake, dont buy a place in Detroit! If you want a house for cheap, go to Vegas or Phoenix, you can find a 3 bedroom home for less than 60K. Or if you want to see a mini-Detroit up close, just drive through Oakland. In 20 years, Oakland will be where Detroit is today.

Detroit is like seeing 'Atlas Shrugged' in real life. The unions drove away the business, and the blacks drove away the whites. So basically all the productive people left, and now the only professionals left are the criminals. Bing is a good mayor, but it's too little too late. Only Robocop can save Detroit now.

The big difference is that the wally not only depends on big tech companies. It also produces them, which Detroit isn't really able to do.

bust is the natural stage in the boom town life cycle. What can be worse scenario for the Valley? People leaving it for high-tech jobs in some new Silicon Valley in China or India? I.e. mostly salaried employees will leave and founders/investors or just rich people will have the Valley for themselves and will plot apricots on the emptied lands, ...

Silicon Valley's economy is more diversified than Detroit's auto industry was.

Silicon Valley also has nicer weather than Detroit.

The companies killed that city though. Putting factories right outside the city lines...

It was also one of the most important cultural capitals of the US


(i.e. Motown to techno was based in Detroit)

So awesome that the first image on that page is of a marquee for a band from Shitsville McNowhere (i.e. Sacramento.) Makes me so proud.

Just kidding. The heart of rock and roll (and r&b and techno and hip hop, etc) is in ... yadda yadda ... DETROIT!

There has never been a better time to invest in Detroit. I believe we have hit bottom. Billionaires are investing in the city again and we have competent leadership for the first time in decades....

Detroit is within 90 miles of about 6 major Universities, the lack of talent argument is lame.

I'm not sure. There are sparks happening right now in Detroit but it's going to take a lot more entrepreneurs and businesses than Slows to revitalize Detroit.

SE Michigan does have one of the highest rates of engineers in the country. It's great for manufacturing but Michigan needs more business sectors. As it stands, Ann Arbor is the only tech hub in the state and even then, plenty of talent is leaving for Silicon Valley.

There is a lot going on in the West Side of the State. There is an incubator http://momentum-mi.com and we are having a Lean Startup Conference (http://leanstartupmi.com) there as well.

In Detroit, I am helping with FutureMidwest (http://FutureMidwest.com) and FundedByNight (http://fundedbynight.com).

There are a lot of Michigan ex-pats so to speak, it's a matter of showing them we can create a tech community (that unites AA + Detroit) and get then pool our resources.

Here is an awesome documentary about Detroit that was made really recently.


It made me want to move there. It also plugged omnicorp, which is a pretty cool hackerspace located there.

There's a beautiful photography book called the "Ruins of Detroit" that conveys this:


Wow. That is really cool.

Wow! I had no idea Detroit was only 10.61% white. Is this an exception case in the U.S. or is this kind of ethnic disproportion common across cities?

This can be somewhat misleading for someone who isn't familiar with Detroit. When people say 'Detroit', they often mean the sprawling metropolitan area of the city of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. The Detroit metro area has 4.4 million residents. The city of Detroit has only 700k. This article refers only to the city. And yes, the city has very few white residents. It is overwhelmingly poor and black.

It's not unusual, in the U.S., for urban centers to have a high minority concentration, but I believe this is much higher than most major cities.

I wouldn't say it's "dying". It has been bad but it's time to get more efficient and maybe that's what the city is trying to do. Also, not all of Detroit is that bad

'Consolidating' is probably a more apt descriptor. Much of the outer sections are sparse and neglected, but other people have noted it still has an active core.

According to friends, you can buy beautiful houses in Detroit for $100 a pop. It's the Warren Buffet strategy. Buy long.

What concerns me (and I would appreciate comments from people who may know) is that I might be buying something with a great deal more than $100 in liabilities for cleanup or something. There's no fun in buying ten houses for $100 each if in five years you incurs thousands of dollars of obligations each to bring them up to some code or become liable because someone trespassed and died there or something. Even for a house in Detroit this is ringing my "too good to be true" bells; if it were just a fun thing to buy and see increase in value I gotta think it wouldn't have been that cheap in the first place.

look the trend Detroit, Cleveland, ... this is the result of shipping jobs to china. I bet, bay area will loose 10% of its population by 2020.

Actually those jobs in Detroit/Rust Belt are moving to the southeast.

Southern states are offering tax breaks, state funding to train workers, low cost labor pool, low rates of unionization, etc.

As an explanation for the rust-belt as a whole that seems inaccurate; the south today is not nearly as industrialized as the northeast was in its heydey. Certainly the steel industry, one of the dominant industrial sectors, has not moved to the southeast, which has almost no steel industry; it's done a mixture of just shutting down entirely, and moving to China. The automotive industry is closer to being accurate, though I don't think the number of automotive jobs created in the southeast is actually particularly large, certainly nothing on the order of the change in Detroit's population.

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