Wall Street Journal
Joesph B. White
If there is any place in a gloomy nation that is better off right now than it was four years ago, Detroit would be it.
The Motor City, with its thousands of blighted houses, auto-industry layoffs and dwindling population, became a symbol of economic despair during the depths of the recent recession. Even now, southeast Michigan bears the scars of that downturn and others that came before it.
But lately, the mood in the region is more positive than in much of the rest of the country—and not only on game days.
The success of Detroit's sports team are distracting America's attention from what's really going on in the motor city : an improbable uptick in the city's fortunes. Joe White discusses with Simon Constable and Wendy Bounds on The News Hub.
The triumphs of the city's professional sports teams have helped, of course. The Detroit Tigers' victory over the favored New York Yankees in Thursday's decisive American League divisional playoff game had fans roaring in bars all over the city. The next round of playoff games could bring millions of dollars in additional business for hotels, bars, restaurants and other businesses near the team's home field in downtown Detroit.
An equally big boost for Detroit spirits is the sudden success of the city's pro football team, the Lions. The Lions, a perennial NFL doormat that made history by going winless just three seasons ago, are undefeated so far this season, and will make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in nearly ten years. The University of Michigan and Michigan State football teams are also enjoying winning seasons.
Those televised sports successes have prompted out-of-town media to say nice things about Detroit for a change.
But for locals, it appears there's more to cheer about than Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez's game-ending strikeout, or the Dallas Cowboys' second-half collapse against the Lions last Sunday.
The state's unemployment rate remains higher at 11% than the national average, but it has fallen by 1.5 percentage points since July 2010—a larger percentage drop than all but three other states—and is down from a peak of over 14% in late 2009. Housing prices in Metro Detroit have ticked up after years in freefall, as more young home buyers seize bargains in the suburbs and the city.
Gov. Rick Snyder has won praise from corporate leaders for pushing an overhaul of the state's business-tax code through the legislature earlier this year, and for balancing the state's budget.
Nobody, including Gov. Snyder, says Detroit or Michigan's problems are solved. Detroit's city budget is deep in the red and its schools have been taken over by a state-appointed emergency manager. Some of Mr. Snyder's prescriptions for the state's economy, such as taxing pensions and capping welfare benefits at four years, have drawn fire from critics who say his efforts to spur business investment only add to the burdens of the elderly and poor.
An August poll by EPIC/MRA of Lansing, Mich., found that 54% of respondents said Michigan was on the "wrong track," while 31% said the state was headed in the right direction. But the state scored better than the U.S. as a whole—75% of respondents said the country was on the wrong track.
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