In Michigan, a Look at Our Possible Future

There's nothing romantic about declining opportunities.

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Over the holidays, my husband and I visited his family in Michigan, where almost everyone we know has been affected by the struggles of the Detroit auto makers. Friends can't sell their house that's been on the market for over two years, making it impossible for them to buy a new home in a neighborhood closer to their jobs. (The recent foreclosures on nearby properties haven't helped.) Recent law school graduates can't find jobs, as law firms see some of their biggest clients -- auto companies -- cut back on work.  As one relative told me, "If we stayed here, our future isn't going to be very bright."

Almost every story in the Detroit Free Press -- which itself recently announced it will no longer deliver the newspaper seven days a week -- contains a hint of that deep frustration so many people seem to be feeling. The front page recently featured a story on the growing health care sector, with information on how auto workers can enter two-year training programs to shift careers. The real estate section featured tips on "small spaces for tight times."  And, to top everything off, the Lions finished their season yesterday without winning a single game.

As we noticed the shuttered windows of mom-and-pop shops that had gone out of business since we last visited, I couldn't help but wonder: Is this the future for the rest of the country? I sure hope not. Because while it can be almost fun to rediscover frugality and learn to live within our means, there's nothing pleasurable about feeling trapped with limited opportunities for success. What do you think, especially if you live in Michigan -- am I being overly negative?