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Kanwar Bhullar
Dr. Beth Fowler
PS 1010
February 2, 2016
Welfare Dependence in Detroit: A Long History
One of the most prominent problems that has fueled Detroits decline for decades and today, acts
as a major hurdle for the government to overcome in the citys recovery process is welfare dependence.
Although the problem of widespread welfare dependence by most of the citys approximately 700,000
residents has grabbed the attention of the entire country, not much is known about the history of welfare
in Detroit.
The rise of Detroit into a thriving metropolis was quite fast, with many new residents looking to
work in the modern and emerging auto industry. From the very beginning of this sudden extravagant
growth, Detroit was visibly ill equipped to handle the welfare issues of their residents. Disregarding jobs
in the American auto industry, jobs reserved for the other lower class workers were overwhelming
seasonal, meaning that they often relied on welfare during the season(s) they did not have a steady
income. As the city grew, city officials were slow to expand the citys Poor Commission, then responsible
for relief disbursal. 1913 in particular had a mild winter, causing widespread unemployment. The Poor
Commission and city charities could not meet demands, forcing the citys Board of Commerce to fill the
void. In coming years, although the commission was renamed (Family Welfare Agency) and supposedly
funded in accordance to modern needs, the agency faced failure in 1929 and onwards.
Usually, when the welfare budget fell short of demand, the agency approached city council for
extra money, which they would always receive, and this deficit would added to the next years increasing
taxes. In 1929, however, unemployment was high again (with the onset of the great depression), and the
city deficit increased at a concerning and unsustainable rate. In a survey of the welfare department later
that year, it was found that the office was inadequately staffed, unqualified for their work and frankly,

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badly managed with the need for reorganization. The mayor was forced out of office, and the expenditure
for unemployment welfare, with respect to the Great Depression, increased to 4.5 million dollars, the
largest in the citys history. Throughout the Great Depression, the agency was permitted only 7 million
dollars a year in relief money, with no option to ask council for more. Thousands of people, including
single men and women, healthy and childless couples, and one-child couples were all dropped from the
lists in a harsh move to stop mounting fiscal debts on Detroit. After WWII ended and the economy
stabilized again, the welfare department continued to run into funding problems. The lack of
disbursement, especially for African American citizens, eventually reached a boiling point.
From the late 1950s onwards, working class white families began leaving the city to find work
elsewhere. In 1967, the civil rights riots drove away affluent white families and innumerable small and
large businesses, costing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. This decline has continued
almost unhindered for half a century, putting Detroit in the dilemma it is today. With no businesses or a
middle class base to tax, the city of Detroit generates very little profit, most of which is taken to support
the astonishingly high number of Detroit residents on welfare and food stamps (estimated to be
approximately 50% of the citys 700,000 residents).
If the city of Detroit wants to solve this problem, an economic stimulus is desperately needed.
The resurgence of both small businesses and large corporations into the city would not only provide
corporate tax for the city to use, but also provide jobs for unemployed citizens, thereby decreasing their
reliance on the welfare system. The citizens could provide even more revenue with the tax money they
will earn in these new jobs. Using this incoming money, the city could provide adequate funding for the
decreasing welfare population (as more of these people work in the new jobs) and use remaining funds for
other important recovery projects for the city. City management should learn from the mistakes of their
more ignorant predecessors, and properly control the spending and disbursal of welfare benefits to
citizens. Both economic stimulus and better departmental management of the agency that controls city
welfare are needed to ensure a decrease in welfare dependence among most residents in Detroit.

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Works Cited
Norton, William J. The Relief Crisis in Detroit. Social Service Review 7.1 (1933): 110. Web.
Haber, William. Fluctuations in Employment in Detroit Factories, 1921-1931. Journal of the American
Statistical Association 27.178 (1932): 141152. Web.
Kain, John F. Housing Segregation, Negro Employment, and Metropolitan Decentralization. The
Quarterly Journal of Economics 82.2 (1968): 175197. Web.
Kasinsky, Kristen. DETROIT: BUILT FOR THE ROAD AHEAD?. Michigan Sociological Review 23
(2009): 160176. Web.
Ross, Janell. "Michigan Welfare Cuts Forcing People Back To Work Or Straining Safety Net?" The
Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.