Make Sure that Our Country Does Not Become Detroit

Yesterday, Barack Obama told the leaders of the Congress that the economy is very bad and getting worse. The president-elect's words of warning about the future of the economy is already a present reality for many Americans. The challenge for our incoming president will be to make sure that our country does not become Detroit. Detroit is my hometown. Over Christmas, I spent some time there with my family. The painful signs of decay are deepening -- even from the last time I was there just months ago. For a long time the cracks of the city were only noticeable to a native, but now even the casual visitor can see the signs that the city is literally falling apart. My hometown, with a metropolitan population of over 4 million, can no longer sustain a daily newspaper. The Detroit Free Press will soon cut home delivery to Thursday, Friday, and Sunday only. Abbreviated reporting will be available the rest of the week at select newsstands and online. Advertisers have followed jobs in fleeing the state, leaving a ghost town and ghost state in its wake. And if the automakers begin to fall, of course, everything will get much worse. A report in November showed that unemployment rose in 364 out of 369 major metropolitan areas in our country, with Detroit leading the country with an unemployment rate of over 9.5 percent. Only 10 years ago, the city's unemployment rate was 3.9 percent. Detroit has seen hard times before as many areas of the country have, but things look like they will get worse before they get better. My brother is the COO for the largest non-profit service provider in the city. His family's home is now worth less than their mortgage -- an experience now common to many Detroit area homeowners. His next door neighbors purchased their home for $200,000 just a few years ago, and the house sold last month for $35,000. Foreclosures are on every block, and others have abandoned their homes and their mortgages, leaving behind lower property values and boarded up windows. FDR, unable to walk on his own, inspired hope to Americans as he spoke of our country as a sick patient in need of care. The president-elect yesterday said,

Right now, the most important task for us is to stabilize the patient. The economy is badly damaged -- it is very sick. So we have to take whatever steps are required to make sure that it is stabilized.

I urge our lawmakers to move quickly and responsibly for the good of the patient. The stimulus package that has been proposed has the potential to "break the momentum of the recession." But with this large expenditure also comes an opportunity to unprecedented transparency and accountability. The new Congress should ensure that the bill is made easy to understand, track, and search online. And I pray that my new hometown can put aside its bitter habits of partisan blaming and attacking, and lawmakers will decide together to do the best thing for the country.

Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at