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August 13, 2013

Detroit Residents Resilient in the Face of Bankruptcy

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On July 18, Detroit, Mich., became the largest U.S. city to ever file for bankruptcy. Because of the city’s budget woes, Detroit residents have been left without basic social services; 40 percent of the city’s street lights don’t work, police take on average 58 minutes to respond to a call and buses are always late if they come at all.

Part of the problem is the city’s declining population. While 1.8 million people lived in Detroit at its peak, that number is now down to 700,000 people, meaning that a much smaller tax base is still trying to pay for the same services.

Those hit hardest by the bankruptcy are retired city workers, whose pensions and health care benefits will likely sustain cuts as the city seeks to make up an estimated $18 billion in debt.

“I feel very let down,” said Rick Piornack, a Detroit resident who spent 30 years fighting fires in the city. “My father was a police officer in the city. I have been a fireman in the city. My son is a fireman in the city. I feel like I have really been let down.”

However, residents are not willing to give up yet. Some see the bankruptcy as a way for the city to start over again.

“I’m just seeing this as just a start. If we can get this done while going through bankruptcy, what can we get done when we’re financially stable? A whole lot more than this,” said resident Terrance Gore.

Warm up questions

1. What does the word bankruptcy mean?

2. What kinds of services and jobs do local governments usually provide?

3. What are pensions, and why are they important to people who have retired?

Discussion questions

1. The population of Detroit has gone from 1.8 million to just 700,000 residents. How does this affect the city’s ability to collect taxes and provide services to the community?

2. Which part of the population do you think has been hit the hardest by Detroit’s bankruptcy?

3. What are the possible benefits of bankruptcy for Detroit and its residents?

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