Sunday, April 10, 2011

What immigration giveth, emigration can taketh away

[Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

I promised Ferndale Friends’ interim managing editor I wouldn’t write anything about a specific ballot issue on May’s ballot for which the publish-date of this edition of Ferndale Friends presents an opportune time to promote my position on the subject.

Geography is against me here. The place to discuss the issue I’m not allowed to discuss is elsewhere discussed in this magazine. For this issue, at least, this column’s space has become a don’t-discuss-the-thing-you’re-not-supposed-to-else-you’re-sleeping-in-the-garage zone.

If that wasn’t hint enough, the interim managing editor is my wife, Tiffani (Hi, babe!). So for a while I can get away with admitting I think my boss is hot.

It is Lent, which means that for the 40 days leading up to Easter many Christians will either give something up or try to do something positive so they may become better Christians, or better spouses, students, or maybe just thinner. Many people will take a Mulligan on their New Year’s resolutions.

This Lent, I thought I’d try something similar and not criticize city council or even try writing something nice about each of them. But criticizing government isn’t really a vice and writing nice things about council wouldn’t fool anyone for a minute, so we’ll just see how it goes. I’ll definitely stick with my promise to Tiffani and not discuss the burning question on everybody’s mind as they head out to vote on May 3, “Do I need to bring a #2 pencil?”

The new Jamestown?

The latest census numbers show Detroit lost a quarter of its residents and Ferndale a tenth of its population.

Mayor Bing will likely both challenge Detroit’s numbers in court and go looking for uncounted Detroiters throughout the city’s 139 square miles.

It’s been said the two largest school districts in Michigan are Detroit Public Schools, and Detroit Public School students attending non-DPS school districts.

If estimations of Michigan’s second largest school district are accurate don’t be surprised to find Mayor Bing and DPS Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb driving through Centerline, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Oak Park, and other Detroit-bordering school districts looking for Detroiters that have falsified their addresses.

My favorite quote concerning Ferndale’s loss of 10% of its population (2205 people since 2000) came from Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter in the Ferndale Patch, “"My job is to make the city the best place I can for the people here now.”

(I’m counting that as a nice thing said about council.)

What I like about Mayor Coulter’s comment is its pragmatism. Neither nostalgia nor spin color his perspective. He doesn’t hearken back to images of Ferndale’s past when Irish Catholics bunked children one atop the other in bedrooms and closets.

Pundits, politicians, and cheer-leaders are tripping over themselves in the press, online forums, and Facebook trying to convince the remaining population that losing 10-20% of the population was expected, and that plans are being made to tie meat around south-east Michigan’s neck so Millenials will play with us.

Exactly how many Millenials does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb, replace the economic activity of 2205 residents with beer and Buffalo-wings, or repopulate our school system?
In case you’re unfamiliar with the definition of Millenials, they’re typically described as 20-somethings. But they’re not just in their 20s. Millenials are also in their teens, tweens, and many still have their baby teeth—and Ferndale lost over 1200 Millenials under the age of 18. Statistically, I’m not as confident as Craig Covey that folks in the narrow age range of 18-to-30 exist in sufficient numbers to make up the difference.

(Craig isn’t on council anymore so I don’t count that as a criticism.)

According to a focus group on the Craig Fahle show (March 28) 20-somethings are just as likely to uproot themselves from cool cities after they start families and go on the hunt for high-performing school districts as their parents’ generation did.

For a different perspective on our region’s population loss we need to back up 130 years-or-so to the late 1800s when waves of Italians arrived looking for opportunity, or the Irish before them.

If that’s too far back we can look at what put Detroit on the population map and gave it the one of the nation’s highest median incomes—the auto industry.

Between 1900 and 1930, Detroit’s population ballooned from 265,000 to 1.5 million with immigrants from other states and countries. 100 years later, people are now emigrating to opportunities elsewhere.

Can we blame them? Should we hold them back? Should we discourage our loved ones from seeking their fortunes in the southeast or southwest or anywhere else they’re lured by the century-later equivalent of $5/day?

Not if we want them paying our Social Security and other government health and retirement benefits.

We should be proud of anyone that leaves to seek their fortunes elsewhere. They’ve more in common with the people that came to Detroit 100 years ago and built the Paris of the West than they do the tour guides at The Coliseum.

Well, we’ve made it this far and I’ve kept my promises.

If you have comments or criticisms for me don’t wait for a religious holiday. Write me at

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