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The Decline of Detroit in Five Maps

Detroit was once the nation’s fourth most-populous city. Today, it became the largest American city to file for bankruptcy. The Motor City has been in decline for decades; its population peaked at 1.8 million in 1950 and declined to just 700,000 people in the last Census. Predictably, its economy faltered—especially over the last decade. The unemployment rate is over 18 percent; fewer than half of adult residents are employed. A shrinking tax base made the city’s debt unsustainable—forcing it into bankruptcy. The decline of Detroit is illustrated by two New York Times features documenting the 2010 Census and the 2006-2009 American Community Survey

Over the last decade, Detroit's population fell by nearly 26 percent. Detroit's suburbs have lost residents too, but not nearly as many.

It is not quite right to say that Detroit is empty. 700,000 people still live there. But at its peak, the city housed 1.8 million people, and thousands of homes are now abandoned. In some neighborhoods, half of all homes are vacant.

Detroit's urban core is deeply impoverished. The median household income is just $26,000--the map below shows areas where households make less than $30,000 per year.

Home values are extraordinarily low. In some neighborhood, the median home is worth less than $40,000.

And no discussion of Detroit is complete without mention of race and segregation. In 1950, when Detroit's population was at its peak, the city was 82 percent white. After decades of white flight, that number is reversed: the city is now 82 percent black and 10 percent white. On the map below, Detroit's city limits are obvious—especially its northern boundary, along the infamous "Eight Mile Road."