While the late 1960s violence that erupted in urban centers across the country was all somehow related to racial politics, historians and social scientists have disputed the extent to which race played a role in the Detroit riots of 1967. A number have suggested that there should be a shift in emphasis from race to poverty in understanding what happened that summer. But we shouldn’t be cavalier about teasing apart these important social dimensions. In the mid- and late 1960s, the black community in Detroit was suffering through the first wave of what would turn into a decades-long (and obviously still continuing) period of economic hardship. […] Even just twenty years earlier, when housing discrimination was especially bad, young black men could look forward with reasonable optimism to finding service employment at one of the auto plants or their subsidiary factories. But early in the 1960s, the job market for African Americans in the inner city had collapsed, and prospects, especially for young black men, were dismal.
After the riots, Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission found that they were caused by lack of employment opportunity. According to Thomas Sugrue, about 25 percent of young black men in Detroit were unemployed at the time. A quick search of BLS data puts Detroit’s current unemployment rate at about 18 percent.