Economists are attributing Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing to problems facing the entire Rust Belt region: a shrinking tax base, high health and pension costs, sprawl, and general dysfunction. But on Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh added another cause to the long list of factors that have contributed to the city’s downfall: black people.
During an appearance on Fox News’ On The Record with Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday, Limbaugh claimed that “unchecked” Democratic rule “since the last Republican mayor [in] 1957” created a lazy and bloated culture of out-of-control spending and corruption.
“You’ve had that — that town has been a petri dish of everything the Democrat Party stands for, everything the Democrat Party loves — massive unions, massive pensions, pay people pensions and health care long after they’ve stopped working,” he said, before arguing that the city’s first black mayor exacerbated the city’s spending and sparked racial riots that chased white people into the suburbs:
LIMBAUGH: You have massive welfare states where citizens are given things left and right in order to buy their votes. You have no opposition whatsoever.
And in the case of the — you throw race into the mix and you bring on Mayor Coleman Young who causes riots in 1967 in Detroit and Mayor Young caused a white flight to suburbia, and Detroit is left with nothing but liberal Democrats running it. It is what it is. And you — any place in this country that has similar circumstances, the same fate is going to happen to them.
First, Coleman Young, who Limbaugh claims caused the riots, wasn’t elected to the mayor’s office until six years after violence broke out, in 1973. The New York Times noted in his obituary that by that point, “Detroit had already been reeling from high unemployment in the automobile industry, a high crime rate and deteriorating housing.” Young also wasn’t a proponent of the kind of welfare policies and “massive pensions,” that Limbaugh attributes to Democrats. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he was actually credited with keeping Detroit financially afloat “by persuading city workers to accept cuts in salaries and fringe benefits and voters to approve a $96 million increase in income taxes.” In the late 1990s, the city, still under Democratic rule, even experienced a small revitalization. Household incomes rose, child poverty dropped “by a stunning 13 percentage points,” and homeownership grew.
As for the 1967 riots, they occurred in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, when African Americans across the country were, as a study commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson put it, systematically excluded from the benefits of economic progress and faced “Pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing.” The report, which focused on the causes of the violence, found that “white racism,” not Coleman Young, “is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.”
The riots of the late 1960s set off “a chain reaction in neighboring communities.” The violence first started in Newark, New Jersey in July of 1967 and later spread to Detroit. “What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and the material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens,” the 1967 National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders concluded. “Rather than rejecting the American system, they were anxious to obtain a place for themselves in it.”
Limbaugh is right that white people did leave Detroit in large numbers in the aftermath of the 1967 violence, but that exodus followed a trend of whites abandoning cities as black people moved in and a slowdown in the auto industry. Before the riots, the vast majority of white population growth was already occurring “in suburban portions of metropolitan areas” and white population within the city of Detroit had declined by 1.3 million between 1960 and 1967.