In the Michigan Union yesterday, I spoke with several MUG custodial employees, wondering if they had a few moments to discuss their respective experiences working in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, none of them had much spare time (they were on duty and I was likely a nuisance), but, I was able to gather some information. Their most provocative disclosure was that none of the gentlemen with whom I spoke were Ann Arbor residents. Instead, they lived in nearby places like Ypsilanti, forced to commute to work because living closer to the Union was too expensive.
That these men resided beyond the boundaries of our fine city piqued my interest because the University has championed diversity as a necessary condition when establishing a community in which people can learn. And I agree with that assertion, because my contact with “others” – non-New Yorkers, non-Jews, non-whites, non-sensicals – has enhanced my college experience, and I will graduate next month having gained far more than just a better understanding of the what motivated the authoring of John’s apocalyptic vision. Yet the diversity I have come to value exists in a fishbowl of sorts, restricted from flowing out onto Liberty street or running down the hill toward Jackson road: Is Ann Arbor really diverse?
My sad findings at the Union suggest otherwise, and that unfortunate circumstance illustrates that the diversity from which our municipality derives fame is perhaps mostly ersatz – enhanced solely by the presence of the University community – or, worse, wholly fictitious.
There are the more traditional (and given this university’s ongoing litigation, more notable) indices, like racial composition of the population, that prove this point. For instance, the 2000 U.S. Census found that black persons in Michigan comprise 14.4 percent of the state’s overall population. In Ann Arbor, blacks are only 8.8 percent of the populous. However, the lacking diversity of which I speak is economic.
Surely, one can find a wide array of people walking down State Street any given day – preppies, neo-hippies, professorial types, myriad others – yet that range of appearance is a superficial indicator and does not equate to economic diversity, income diversity, wealth diversity. Perhaps the child of two University Hospital doctors is going through a phase right now.
Better indicators of Ann Arbor’s cloistered nature are the median-average price for a home in Ann Arbor Township and the income distribution of Ann Arbor’s working professionals. The Census lists the former as $345,000. (For comparison’s sake, the highest average in the state, Bloomfield Hills, stands at $854,000, while the lowest, Ahmeek Village, in Keweenaw County, is $27,100.) As for the latter, 56.7 percent of the city’s workforce earns $75,000 or more annually; more than half of the individuals who hold jobs make $33,00 than the average American household.
Statistics don’t always tell a full story and obviously, there are other factors that influence who lives where and why. However, the figures enumerated above paint a bleak picture for those like the MUG employees who would prefer to live and probably raise families in the area yet can’t.
The University community, particularly its students, should also concern itself with Ann Arbor’s not-so-varied demographics. While students from a broad spectrum of financial backgrounds matriculate here, there are a noticeable number of kids who have lived comfortably for most of their lives. College is routinely cited as an opportunity to go beyond one’s comfort zone, one’s standard routine. And Ann Arbor, with its abundant cultural ammenities, is often extolled for providing students with an endless supply of entertainment possibilities. However, if the city is not the melting pot it is rumored to be, then how does exposure to its people really challenge and educate the students?
America’s economy and social structure are predicated on class stratification, and, more crudely, not everyone gets to be the boss. Thus, I did not leave the Union yesterday with a defeated spirit having abandoned some quixotic dream of a perfectly egalitarian American utopia. However, I also was forced to reconsider Ann Arbor’s distinction as a diversity breeding ground, a mecca of variety. People can refer to the city as “diverse” as much as they’d like, but without a greater mix of economic situations among the population, such a title is a misappropriation.