A Drive Through Detroit

The first thing Mark asked me when I stepped out of the glaring Detroit summer sun and into his yellow cab was whether I was in Detroit for the US Social Forum. I was, I told him. How was I finding the city? he wondered. Fine, I said, though I hadn’t really had much of a chance to explore the place that was being pegged as the symbol of American economic decline.

Mark, who asked that his last name not be used for personal privacy, laughed, and offered me an exclusive tour of Detroit beyond the art nouveau sculptures and bright glass of the area surrounding the conference center. And with this came Mark’s story – as a former auto worker, as a Detroit native and as a cab driver who has traversed the city’s streets.

During the ride we chatted about the decline of the big three auto manufactures that have left Detroit facing unemployment rates of 14.6 percent in May 2010 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, at one point, leading the nation’s foreclosure rates.

Mark said he estimates the actual unemployment rate, which does not count part-time workers looking for full-time jobs or frustrated job seekers who have abandoned their job search altogether, to be approaching 50 percent, particularly in the African-American community.

Many of those now unemployed, he noted, had not gotten college degrees because they thought there was the guarantee of a steady job with an auto company or one of the multiple parts contractors waiting for them. Mark, a skilled worker who had graduated with a BA in political science, has not found the job climate hospitable since he took early retirement two years ago.

Mark’s hope is for green jobs to rejuvenate Detroit and cities like it around the country. He doesn’t know when this could happen or if it is even realistic, but he also has no plans to move his five kids – two of whom are in college and three still finishing high school – out of the city in which he was born and raised.

One of the things Mark mentioned when I first met him was his plan to attend some of the workshops as the US Social Forum, which had a special track on the issues affecting the Rustbelt. Instead, he was kind enough to spend his free day taking me, a cameraman from FreeSpeech TV and a journalism student from neighboring Wayne State University for a ride. Here is part one of that trip.

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