In just over two years in office, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has grappled with a $330 million budget deficit, watched the Motor City’s signature industry reach rock bottom and demolished more than three thousand vacant houses.
“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had,” Bing said Tuesday morning. “The only person whose job is tougher than mine is the guy I was meeting with yesterday.”
That would be President Obama, with whom Bing met Monday as part of the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. During the conference, the mayors took an unusual step of overwhelmingly calling for the president to speed the end of overseas wars and redirect federal savings to their cities.
For Detroit, it sounds like the lobbying will work. Although any connection between a troop drawdown and aid to cities still battered by the economic downturn is unknown, Bing said he expects “something significant” to emerge from Washington sometime in the next two months that would spur change in Detroit.
“We talked about something yesterday I can’t make public right now,” he said while speaking at a press conference at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. “But sometime in the next 30 to 45 days, there will be an announcement they will make, not me. And I think we’re going to be very pleased with that.”
Later in his remarks, he hinted the federal money could boost education funding. Not merely for K-12, but also for re-training tens of thousands of workers whose educations and skill sets have become outdated in a changing economy that now favors the service sector and health-care industry.
To date, the city’s school system has left its residents ill-prepared for those new jobs, Bing said.
In Detroit, 47 percent of the metro population is functionally illiterate, according to a recent report from the National Institute for Literacy. And on Monday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced some of the city’s worst-performing districts would be melded into a new statewide district run by the Michigan Department of Education.
“We’ve also got three generations of people who grew up in that same system who are, in some cases, unemployable,” Bing said. “We need some massive dollars from a re-training standpoint. I had a lot of conversations about that in Washington yesterday.
“We have got to make sure that population from 21 to 40 or so, we have to get money to re-train those people, because the jobs for 2012 and beyond are not necessarily the skills they have. You have to get people trained for the growth areas we are talking about.”