1980s Detroit Economic Collapse and White Flight

Created by: Joshua Bauer
Time Period: 20th Century
Topic: Politics, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity

Detroit and White Flight


The 1980s Detroit Economic Collapse was part of, and was the cumulation of, decades of economic and population decline. From 1960 to 1980 the city of Detroit lost around 400,000 people, the majority of which were white people.

The reason for this major upheaval of people is multi-faceted: racism and economics.


Detroit was starting to de-segregate at the time (1960’s – 1970’s) and white people started to move out of Detroit to live in the white dominated suburban areas to escape the coming multi-racial future; however, race is not the only factor in the large scale movement of white people out of Detroit, the poor economy and loss of jobs in the city was another key factor.


Starting in the late 1950’s, the automobile industry, which was a cornerstone of Detroit economics, started to move out of the city. Due to this, people who could move to where the jobs were, did, and those who could not afford to move had to stay put. One thing that must be noted, however, is that while many people moved out of Detroit for legitimate, non-racial, reasons, it goes to show how the economic differences in Detroit were heavily linked to race. This is because the people who could move out of the city of Detroit were mostly middle class white people, all the while those Black working class people (who also happen to be the people most affected by the automobile move out) had to stay in the now crumbling city.

1980’s Detroit

Detroit in the 1980s was still in the middle of it’s economic crisis, as the automobile industry has all but moved out at this point; however, this does not mean that there were not jobs in Detroit, the jobs instead were switched from blue-collar manufacturing jobs to white-collar management jobs. This was able to happen due to the white populace who moved out of the city of Detroit into the Detroit suburbs in Wayne County. This exasperated the problems in the city of Detroit, because the wealth that is being made in Detroit is not staying in Detroit the city, and the people, do not get the wealth that is needed for them to rebound from the economic collapse.