In the Industrial Midwest, the city government of Detroit went into bankruptcy in July. Out in California, the city governments of Stockton and San Bernardino entered bankruptcy proceedings in 2012.
But the Detroit and California bankruptcies, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, are not alike. They suffer from quite different ailments.
You can see the difference by comparing their populations in the 1950 and 2010 Censuses. In 1950 Detroit, then the nation's fifth-largest city, had 1,849,568 people. In 2010 it had 713,777.
Stockton and San Bernardino were not much more than small towns in 1950, with 70,853 and 63,058, respectively. Their total population of 133,911 was only 7 percent the size of Detroit's.
It's different now. In 2010 Stockton had 291,707 people, and San Bernardino 209,924, for a combined total of 501,631. That number is 70 percent of the 2010 total of Detroit.
Lots of people moved out of Detroit. Lots of people moved into Stockton and San Bernardino. These numbers are clues to these cities' different roads to bankruptcy.
Or put it another way. Many people who pay taxes moved out of Detroit. Many people who don't pay much in the way of taxes moved into Stockton and San Bernardino.
Why did so many people move out of Detroit? The quick answer: crime abetted by welfare. During the decade from 1965 to 1975, crime and welfare dependency roughly tripled in the United States and rose even more in Detroit.
There was a connection between the two trends. Welfare encouraged single parenthood; fatherless boys often grew up to commit violent crimes.
Most violent crimes were and are committed by (and against) blacks, whose numbers in Detroit during the great northward migration rose from 149,000 in 1940 to 660,000 in 1970.
Crime was especially common in Detroit during the 20-year reign of Mayor Coleman Young, who was first elected in 1973 and served 20 years. Young was smart, charming and inclined to blame the city's problems on fleeing whites.
He stopped tough policing tactics like stop-and-frisk and concentrated on bringing in federal dollars and sponsoring big projects like the downtown Renaissance Center and General Motors' Poletown plant.
But the Detroit Three auto companies were losing market share to foreign competitors, who prudently avoided locating plants anywhere near Detroit.
The city's non-black population dropped from 853,000 in 1970 to 250,000 in 1990. Then white flight was followed by black flight, with the black population dropping from 777,000 in 1990 to 590,000 in 2010.
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