Today, the non-white population of the Twin Cities has grown to 20 percent. Affordable housing developments are concentrated in only a few pockets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, creating the ghettos that mid-20th century policies avoided so well. If growing racial inequalities are not addressed, Minneapolis could find itself as one of the nation’s poorest cities when it comes to racial politics and urban decline.
The antithesis of Minneapolis today is Detroit. The two cities' demographic proportions are practically the inverses of each other. Detroit’s unemployment rate is high, and the population is largely undereducated and underinsured. Instead of being called miraculous, it declared bankruptcy in 2013.* The trajectories of these two cities, however, are not as different as one may think. The Twin Cities’ decline may just come later.
African Americans and immigrants from all over moved to Detroit in the beginning of the 20th century, enticed by manufacturing jobs. The ample supply of workers, and therefore consumers, allowed the automobile industry to flourish. After World War II, the Detroit metropolitan area thrived; the GI Bill allowed families to buy homes with yards, and their wages at the factories were more than enough to buy a car to let them travel from home to work. It seems hard to imagine now, but not too long ago, Detroit was the American Dream epitomized.
As the economy began to place less of an emphasis on manufacturing, Detroit took advantage of federal urban-renewal policies that helped American cities stave off the effects of deindustrialization in the 1950s and 60s. But its strategy for the use of these funds contributed to the city’s downfall. This money was put into the construction of large institutions downtown—stadiums, universities, and hospitals—that surrounding residents could never afford to patronize. A lack of investment in services for the city's residents, along with discrimination in housing and employment, kept black Detroiters in the city’s lowest economic tiers. This was an invisible problem for city officials, as they used their highest-earning residents to measure how the city fared as a whole.
When Detroit’s racial composition began to change, there were no attempts to rectify the actions that targeted and punished residents of color. That population grew quickly, and decreasing employment opportunities were increasingly preventing this community from contributing to the city’s economy. It cost Detroit greatly to deny this population a place to thrive, and it could cost the Twin Cities, too.
Of course, there are important differences between Detroit and Minneapolis. In the Twin Cities, the economy is more diversified and relies on stable white-collar employment rather than blue-collar labor. However, these two cities have comparable difficulties when it comes to their non-white populations. Detroit’s economic problems are directly related to policies and actions that deliberately excluded black residents from the city’s progress. This exclusion occurred while the city was championed as a welcoming middle-class haven that was ideal for people to start their adult lives—much like is Minneapolis today.