Benton Harbor’s distress likely to continue
The closing of Benton Harbor High will, unfortunately, not bring any change to Benton Harbor. It is just another incident that keeps Benton Harbor a distressed inner city. Perhaps The Herald-Palladium should reprint their April 24, 1983, article which itemized Benton Harbor’s financial assistance. That article presented the details that taxpayers actually provided about $50 million a year in the ’80s to improve Benton Harbor. That assistance is now more than $100 million a year. In the last 40 years taxpayers have contributed over $2 billion – yes, billions – in aid to improve Benton Harbor. It’s true, just check it out.
Investigative journalism could be invaluable in reporting all of Benton Harbor’s assistance to the city, its agencies and to its residents in one article. Further, if one chooses to prorate Benton Harbor’s assistance to include all the distressed urban areas in the United States, he or she would find that the total cost for the last 40 years to be close to the $22 trillion national debt.
Could Benton Harbor be upgraded to economic and social parity with the surrounding area? Yes. Will it? Probably not. In the ’80s Benton Harbor was rated by HUD as the most distressed city in the United States. In just three years from 1990 through 1993 an enterprise zone produced over 140 new businesses in Benton Harbor with about 750 new jobs (The Herald-Palladium, Nov. 29, 1992). This not only brought hope to residents, but tripled the tax base to the city so that city obligations could be, and were, paid.
Benton Harbor shut down the enterprise zone as they saw that the economic recovery jeopardized both the future government aid and the 95 percent Democratic voting record. The surrounding area supported the shutdown. They thought the new businesses and jobs should have been in the surrounding area and not in Benton Harbor. Today, Benton Harbor is rated the second most distressed city in the country. So much for billions in aid, all directed to improve Benton Harbor.
The real question today is not what to do about the closing of the high school, but what will happen if and when the ever-increasing government aid cannot be financed and will be greatly reduced or stopped?
Ex-Chairman of the Enterprise Zone