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Homelessness: Why Los Angeles Isn’t Detroit on the Pacific

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Homelessness: Why Los Angeles Isn’t Detroit on the Pacific

A fire from a homeless encampment creates smoke in Los Angeles, Calif. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler

8/22/2023

Updated: 8/26/2023

Commentary
This one left my head shaking. The mainstream media seem to be getting worse. Here’s the Los Angeles Times’s headline, “Why Detroit, America’s poorest city, doesn’t have an L.A.-sized homeless problem.” The main reason is only slightly mentioned: “The public tends to blame L.A.’s high levels of homelessness on poverty, drug use, crime or even Southern California’s warm weather.”
I was born in Detroit and grew up in the nearby suburb of Wayne. I can tell you the main reason why there’s a much smaller homeless problem in Motown, a nickname for Detroit: You will freeze to death. It’s not quite as bad as during the “global cooling” of the 1970s, when it got down to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and parts on my car froze. But sub-zero weather is guaranteed starting every November.
So the homeless either die, find some sort of shelter—or head to Los Angeles.

More Housing

The L.A. Times article also mentions the second reason (but not “mostly”): “Like many of those places, Detroit doesn’t have L.A. levels of street homelessness mostly because it has more available housing.
“Detroit’s flawed and somewhat accidental solution, a city rich in cheap housing and abandoned buildings, is hardly ideal. People like McFarland are often stuck in neighborhoods where they feel unsafe. Many of the homes people live in are falling apart, run by slumlords. But their availability points toward the most basic approach to getting people off the streets: finding more places to live.”
That also misrepresents what happened. It wasn’t “accidental.” The city was wrecked on purpose through bad policies similar to those wrecking Los Angeles and California today. The major difference is California has an intrinsic value as a coastal city in the state’s balmy Mediterranean climate. Detroit does not. It does have beautiful lakes and beaches. But in the winter, they’re good only for ice fishing.
Detroit flourished until recently because of its centrality to natural resources, such as the iron ore and copper mines of the Upper Peninsula, which were easily carried on large ships to the city’s factories; to the other Rust Belt towns of the Midwest; and to the large pool of labor, much of it skilled, such as my parents and grandparents, three of the latter immigrants.
I was born there in 1955 and remember driving to my grandparents’ home on the East Side of Detroit through 1974, when the last one, Grandpa Seiler, died. Through the early 1960s, it was a beautiful city, called the Paris of the West. Just about anybody, of any race, creed, or color, could earn a good living in the auto industry. But by the mid-1970s, the city was in the midst of being destroyed, although the suburbs still prospered.
Here’s what happened.
The Detroit skyline on Oct. 23, 2019. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

The Detroit skyline on Oct. 23, 2019. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Rich Men North of Richmond’

The current hit song by country crooner Oliver Anthony, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” talks about how the wealthy politicians, lobbyists, and government functionaries in the Washington, D.C. beltway north of Richmond, Va., are controlling our lives and robbing our livelihoods. Here’s the list of the 10 most wealthy counties in America, according to U.S. News, by median household income in 2022:
1. Loudoun County, Virginia — $156,821 2. Falls Church, Virginia — $155,071 3. Santa Clara County, California — $140,258 4. San Mateo County, California — $136,837 5. Fairfax County, Virginia — $133,974 6. Marin County, California — $131,008 7. Howard County, Maryland — $129,549 8. Arlington County, Virginia — $128,145 9. Douglas County, Colorado — $127,433 10. Nassau County, New York — $126,576
Notice the top two, and five of the top 10, are Virginia or Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.—the Rich Parasites North of Richmond. That’s where your tax dollars go. Three other counties are, as you would expect, in California’s Bay Area, where the global tech industry is located. Another is Douglas County, Colo. A relative of mine used to live there. It’s “horse country,” where the state’s rich frolic. Nassau County in New York is just east of New York City, still the world’s financial capital.
Now, contrast that with the two counties in Michigan just north of Detroit, where the auto industry’s executives and top engineers live, from U.S. Census data for 2021:
  • Oakland County — $86,275
  • Macomb County — $67,828
Oakland’s median family income is just 55 percent of Loudon County’s.
Macomb’s is even less, 43 percent of Loudon’s.
Contrast that list with the data for 1969, from a U.S. Census study. (The data in the study are adjusted for 1989 dollars.)
  • Loudon County — $6,268
  • Falls Church — $12,585
  • Santa Clara County — $11,534
  • San Mateo County — $12,063
  • Fairfax County — $14,854
  • Marin County — $6,724
  • Howard County — $12,904
  • Arlington County — $11,486
  • Douglas County — $10,209
  • Nassau County — $13,859
Again, look at Detroit’s two suburbs for auto industry engineers and executives. We’ll also add Wayne County, which includes Detroit and my hometown city of Wayne, where most of the factories were located, along with their line workers. Those 1969 numbers:
  • Oakland County - $13,033, second only to Fairfax County near D.C. and Nassau County in New York
  • Macomb County - $12,569, also close to the others on the list
  • Wayne County - $10,098, quite high for a working-class county; auto workers made great money
And look at Loudon County for 1969: income about half that of Oakland and Macomb. It was just a rural county back then, population 37,150, compared to 420,959 today.
What happened is President Johnson’s Great Society giveaway programs of the 1960s, which were supposed to reduce poverty and instead shifted trillions of dollars from the productive areas of the economy, such as Detroit and its suburbs, to Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. The anti-poverty programs themselves instead brought massive poverty as the federal government metastasized first inside the D.C. Beltway, then around it.
Multiply these comparisons across the country, including California, and you can see why so many problems originate from the money made in real industries—autos, steel, computers, construction—being taxed away and sent to the paper-pushers, taxers, and over-regulators in Washington and its environs.
The U.S. Capitol building is seen at sunrise in Washington on July 31, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

The U.S. Capitol building is seen at sunrise in Washington on July 31, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

High State Taxes

Let’s go further. After all, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida are doing better than Michigan and California. Well, those states don’t have a state income tax. California’s, of course, is 13.3 percent at the top level.
Michigan lacked an income tax during its Paris of the West heyday. Then one was imposed by Gov. George Romney, Mitt’s father, to pay for his state version of LBJ’s Great Society in the run-up to his failed 1968 run for president. Reported Brian Domitrovic in Forbes, “In 1967, Michigan instituted its income tax. The rate is now 4.25 percent. Municipalities can tack on a wage tax. Detroit’s is 2.4 percent. People in the major places therefore pay about 7 percent. Prior to 1967, there were no such taxes in the state.  Just like Tennessee today—no income tax.
“Since that year, Michigan has lost nearly 40 percent of its share of national population and nearly 50 percent of its share of national income. ...
“It is a myth that manufacturing in the United States declined in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. The permanent slouching of manufacturing came with the Barack Obama presidency. Manufacturing did great over the first forty years of the Michigan income tax. It did great in nice part by leaving Michigan and going to other places, like zero-income-tax Tennessee.”
Detroit’s combined income tax rate is 6.65 percent. Which means if you just move out of Detroit to a nice suburb, you enjoy a 2.4 percentage-point tax cut.
No wonder Detroit’s population collapsed from 1.5 million in 1970 to 620,376 today. Crime is a problem, too, of course. And the cause was similar to that in Los Angeles and other California cities today: lax enforcement by left-wing mayors, governors, judges, and district attorneys.
A realtor's sign sits in front of a boarded up house next to an occupied home in a Detroit neighborhood on March 23, 2011. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

A realtor's sign sits in front of a boarded up house next to an occupied home in a Detroit neighborhood on March 23, 2011. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Housing Costs

On the positive side for Detroit, as the L.A. Times article notes, housing is dirt cheap. According to Zillow, the median home price in Motown is $67,745. In the City of Angels, it’s $907,874—13 times as much. Median rent in Detroit is $1,212 (798 square feet), compared to $2,742 in Los Angeles (788 square feet), 2.3 times as much. And the square footage in Detroit is slightly larger. However, spending a winter snowed into a small apartment in a Michigan winter is much less pleasant than enjoying open-air Los Angeles.
Comparisons go only so far, but can be useful. Los Angeles is not Detroit on the Pacific. Somebody scraping by on a minimal income can still make it in Detroit. Not so in Los Angeles. The massive federal and state taxation in both states is pushing businesses and jobs to more hospitable states.
As for the homeless, Los Angeles’s weather, generous public benefits, and lax policing are always going to be preferable to hunkering down in a crumbling old building during a Detroit winter, with the wind howling at the door and the snow swirling through the cracks in the walls.
John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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