Photo Essay

The Fall of Flint

Flint, Michigan, was once a thriving industrial city of nearly a quarter million people, with most residents' employment tied in some way to automobile manufacturing. The population has dwindled to less than 100,000 in the aftermath of auto plant closures during the 1980s and the city has demolished over 5,000 abandoned houses in the last decade.

The city is the hometown to General Motors and is one of the nation’s poorest places. Flint has a poverty rate of over 40 percent as well as one of the highest crime and murder rates in the country. Crippled by debt and declining revenues, Flint switched from sharing Detroit's water system to drawing its water from the Flint River, but then neglected to treat the water properly or refurbish the city's aging network of decaying pipes.

Painful rashes, hair loss, lead poisoning, and at least 91 cases of Legionnaires' disease, along with 12 deaths, have been reported to date. The youngest residents of Flint are showing signs of lead toxicity, which can have long term effects on learning and behavior. Organizations and individuals have donated and distributed thousands of gallons of bottled water, but residents still struggle to cook, clean, and keep themselves and their children healthy.

“We still don’t know the end of all this,” said Darnell Ishmel, director of local aid agency Flint H2O. “There are the working poor, and then there are the poor. We are the poor.”

More to Explore

Photo Essay
The Geography of Poverty

Learn about poverty throughout California’s Central Valley with images, geolocation, and poverty data.

Photo Essay
Down the Ganges
During a 33-day documentary shoot for our film Elemental, we traveled with Rajendra Singh on a pilgrimage down India’s once pristine Ganges river, now now …