When President Barack Obama visits a state, his event coordinators choose a place that is spectacular or symbolic. Like in front of an auto plant that was saved by the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, or a school which was rebuilt with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The city of Ypsilanti is not spectacular, but it is symbolic of the kind of people and places which would be affected by his proposal to increase the minimum wage. Which is why The Eastern Echo’s editorial board was dispirited to hear President Obama would speak at the University of Michigan this Wednesday instead of Eastern Michigan University. Given the stated subject of the president’s remarks it would have meant more to students and faculty here rather than there.
Yes, Ypsilanti is small and unremarkable. The city is 4.52 square miles, and its population is 19,621 as of the most recent census. Ann Arbor is 28.7 square miles and its population is 116,121. The two cities however, both house moderately sized schools.
EMU does not have the reputation of the University of Michigan, but it serves an underserved community. Students who are in the workforce. Students who have come back after some time to finish an education they started years prior, or to start an education that was previously unobtainable. The school serves the unconventional students, students who are likely to work while they learn, and work for minimum wage.
In totality, Ypsilanti is exactly the kind of area which could see its fortunes rise if workers here were paid more for their labor. Despite the bailout of the auto industry, and the revival of General Motors – an iconic business in the state of Michigan – the city of Ypsilanti has seen no such revival. The previously prominent industry has since receded, and much of what it has left are jobs which pay the least.
The president, and those who coordinate his events, must think about more than what is merely spectacular. The University of Michigan is known across the country not only for its influence, but for its affluence. Graduates don’t generally work for minimum wage or struggle to find menial employment.
Geographically, where the president was and where he should have been is approximately 6.3 miles. Symbolically, where he was, and where he should have been is immeasurable. This is certainly true for the unconventional students he asked to propel him to the White House in 2008 and again in 2012.