Economic Indicators: Unemployment Rates, Housing Costs Remain Higher than Pre-COVID

We are a year into the COVID pandemic, unemployment rates have peaked and then declined, but they are still substantially higher than a year ago. Average home prices have increased as demand for homes has increased. Broader consumption trends though, while they are faring better than nearly a year ago, have yet to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels. Below we show just how these various indicators have changed over the last year.

In December of 2020 the unemployment rates for the State of Michigan and for the City of Detroit continued to increase after declines following the initial unemployment spikes due to COVID-19. The State of Michigan reported an unemployment rate of 7.3 in December, a higher rate than what was reported in November, which was 6.3. For the City of Detroit, the unemployment rate for December of 2020 was 20.3, which is higher than the November rate of 18.7. The December unemployment data further highlights how the unemployment gap between the State and Detroit continues to grow wider as the COVID case numbers increased rapidly over the holidays.

In line with what was reported above, COVID impacted unemployment rates at the county level in Michigan as well. In December of 2020 each county in Southeastern Michigan had a significantly higher unemployment rate than the year prior. According to data from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, Wayne County experienced the largest increase at about 8 points. In December of 2020 Wayne County had an unemployment rate of 12.4 and in December of 2019 it was 4.5. Washtenaw County experienced the smallest increase at 1.5 points. In December of 2020 Washtenaw County had an unemployment rate of 3.6 and in December of 2019 it was 2.1. While there were overall unemployment increases, the differences in the unemployment percentages between each county is, at least in part, dependent on the type of jobs available in each county and the occupations of residents. For example, in Wayne County the top occupations are office and administrative support, production and sales and food service. In Washtenaw County the top occupations are office and administrative support, education instruction, health care practitioners and food service workers. Throughout much of the year some positions related to office and administrative support and food service have been considered non-essential or experienced higher layoff rates while those in health care and education have been at less risk of being unemployed.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released data on the per capita personal income by county for 2019, showing that overall incomes in Southeastern Michigan did grow between 2018 and 2019. In 2019 Oakland County had the highest per capita personal income at $72,271 but it had the lowest percent change between 2018 and 2019 at 2.7 percent.  Wayne County had the lowest per capital personal income at $44,512 with the percent change from the year prior being 3.3 percent. St. Clair County had the lowest percent change in per capita income between 2018 and 2019 and 2.7 percent; its per capita personal income in 2019 was $45,662.

When examining personal income growth between 2017-18 and 2018-19 the percent change was lowest for the most recent year of data, as opposed to the growth from between 2017-18.

We have yet to know what the impact COVID will have on personal income for 2020, but the data below does show that growth was already beginning to slow down prior to the pandemic. That coupled with higher rates of unemployment, business closures and decreases in spending on goods and services may very well mean lower personal incomes for 2020.

The automobile industry continues to be a driving force in Michigan’s economy and the latest data on vehicle sales show that the number of auto sales for lightweight vehicles has been steadily increasing in recent months while light truck and car sales slightly declined in February of 2021. However, compared to a year ago, sales still remain below what they were. In February of 2021 auto sales for: sales of light weight vehicles were 16.5 million, compared to 16.8 million the year prior; light truck sales were 12.3 million compared to 12.5 million in February of 2020; car sales were 3.4 million, compared to 4.2 million the year prior.

Below shows the consumption expenditures of goods in the U.S. between 2019 and 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, durable goods have an average useful life of at least 3 years (e.g. motor vehicles) while nondurable goods have an average useful life of less than 3 years (e.g. food) and services are commodities that cannot be stored or inventoried and are consumed at the time of purchase (e.g., dining out). The chart below shows how services have yet to make it back to the pre-COVID consumption levels, but the consumption of durable and non-durable goods have risen. In January of 2021 $8,016 billion in services was consumed, $2,148 billion in goods was consumed and $3,206 billion in nondurable goods was consumed.

According to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the average price of single-family dwellings sold in Metro Detroit was $139,240 in November of 2020; this was $145 higher than the average family dwelling price in October. The November 2020 price was an increase of $11,770 from November of 2019 and $15,200 from November of 2018. So, just as unemployment rates remain higher than what they were a year ago so do average home prices. This is interesting though because with higher unemployment rates traditionally comes lower incomes and hesitation around the housing market. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as shown, the average price for a home has been increasing despite higher unemployment rates. Demand for existing homes has been up substantially across the nation over the last year

Commute Times, Mobility Decline in COVID Times

In 2019, before COVID, the average American spent 28 minutes commuting to, or from, their job; in Michigan that average was 25 minutes. However, once the pandemic hit many of us began working from home, which directly impacted mobility to and from workplaces and commute times, presumably. According to a Feb. 23, 2021 report from Google, mobility to places of work in the State of Michigan have declined by 29 percent. At a regional level in Southeastern Michigan mobility has declined even more than the state average since last March. According to the data, mobility declined by the following percentages for the seven counties in Southeastern Michigan from the pre-pandemic baseline:

  • Livingston County: 31 percent
  • Macomb County: 33 percent
  • Monroe County: 22 percent
  • Oakland: 41 percent
  • St Clair County: 15 percent
  • Washtenaw County: 49 percent
  • Wayne County: 35 percent

While mobility data differs from commute data, the fact that people are going to work less means commute times will also decline. Below are two maps showing the average work commute times in 2019 at the municipal and county levels. 

In 2019, the City of Ann Arbor had the lowest average commute time at 20 minutes, according to the American Community Survey, and Clay Township had the highest average commute time at 37 minutes. At the county level, Washtenaw County (where Ann Arbor is located) had the lowest average commute time at 24 minutes and Livingston County had the highest average commute time at 33 minutes. 

When the 2020 commute data is available it will be interesting to see just how many minutes the average commute time declined in Southeastern Michigan, and if that trend lasts for the long-term. Declined commute times and mobility to and from places of work means several things, including less automobile pollution and more time for individuals to participate in leisure activities, perform additional work, do chores or anything else that may be of interest to them. 

Inner-Ring Detroit Suburbs Have Highest Vacancy Rates in 2019

In 2019, Highland Park had the highest vacancy rate in Southeastern Michigan at 34 percent, according to the American Community Survey; the vacancy rate is the percentage of all available units in a rental property, such as a hotel or apartment complex, that are vacant or unoccupied. Clay Township (St. Clair County) had the second highest vacancy rate at 30 percent and Detroit had the third highest rate at 27percent. There were only seven communities in the region with vacancy rates at or above 20 percent; of those communities four were Detroit or an inner-ring suburb (Highland Park, River Rouge and Eastpointe) and the remaining three were outer-ring suburbs (Clay, Burtchville and Lyndon townships). While there were a handful of outer-ring suburbs with high vacancy rates, those with the lowest vacancy rates were all outer-ring suburbs. Orchard Lake Village had the lowest vacancy rate in 2019 at 1.4 percent, followed by Clarkston at 1.6 percent and Plymouth and Augusta townships at 1.8 percent. The inner-ring suburb with the lowest vacancy rate was Southfield Township at 4.1 percent, followed by Allen Park at 4.9 percent. 

In knowing that the Detroit inner-ring suburbs had among the highest vacancy rates in the region, it is not surprising that Wayne County had the highest vacancy rate at the county-level at 15.5 percent. However, St. Clair County had the second highest vacancy rate at 12 percent; St. Clair County is home to the community with the highest vacancy rate (Clay Township). When breaking down the type of vacancies that makeup each county’s overall percentage though Wayne County did not rank the highest amongst any of the categories. The breakdown of vacancy types-housings units for sale, housings units for rent and “other” (described below)-is only available at the county level. So, while we cannot fully understand the specifics of vacancy rates at the municipal level, the county data does give us some insight.

According to the data, Livingston County had the highest percentage of vacant homes for sale at 18 percent, followed by Macomb County at 14 percent and then Wayne County at 10 percent. For rental vacancies, Oakland County had the highest percentage at 31 percent and Macomb County at 26 percent; Wayne County had an 11 percent vacancy rate for rentals. Overall we see that rental units tend to have higher vacancy rates than homes for sale; the rental vacancy rate may grow even higher in areas such as Detroit where demand for rentals is down just as new apartment buildings are opening, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A property is labeled as “other” vacant by the U.S. Census Bureau when it does not fit into one of the categories discussed above. According to the U.S. Census Bureau “other” properties are typically vacant because the owner does not want to rent or sell it; it is being used for storage; the elderly homeowners are living in a nursing home; it’s in an estate settlement; it is being repaired or renovated or it is in foreclosure. According to the data at the County level, St. Clair County had the highest percentage of “other” vacant properties (as described above) at 88 percent, followed by Wayne County at 79 percent. Macomb County had the lowest percentage at 60 percent. This data was only available at the county level.

While the breakdown of vacancy rates is only available at the County level it does shed some light on why certain communities may have some of the highest vacancy rates. For example, we know that communities such as Highland Park and Detroit have higher vacancy rates due houses being abandoned and people leaving those cities for outer-ring suburbs. Furthermore, according to Next Gen City, the highest vacancy rates are in areas that have the highest population of black residents; Detroit and Highland Park have the highest black populations in the State of Michigan. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the economy it will interesting to see how vacancy rates change in the future.

Marriage Rates Declining in Southeastern Michigan

The day of love just passed, and data shows the tradition of marriage may be becoming a thing of the past too. According to the 2019 American Community Survey fewer people were married in 2019 in Southeastern Michigan than in 2010. 

As shown in the first map below, compared to the second map, each of the seven counties in the region had a lower percentage of married individuals in 2019, with Wayne County having the lowest percentage of married individuals. In Wayne County, 39 percent of the population was married in 2010, and by 2019 that percentage had dropped to 36 percent.  Livingston County had the highest percentage of married individuals. In 2019 61 percent of the population in Livingston County was married, and in 2010 64 percent of the county was married. Monroe County experienced the largest decline between 2010 and 2019; in 2010 58 percent of the population was married, and in 2019 that decreased to 53 percent.

Declining marriage rates have been a trend for nearly two decades now, and this is likely due to economic and social trends. According to the Brookings Institute, as marriage rates decline, non-marital births, cohabitation and single parenthood have all been increasing. Furthermore, education and income levels also play a role in current marriage trends. For example, those with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to get married than those without such a degree, according to the Brookings Institute. Additionally, marriage rates are declining the most in the middle class. Potential reasons for such declines include economic instability for both men and women, wage inequalities and the concern over the cost of children.

In addition to the percentage of people getting married declining, so is the percentage of married individuals with children. Between 2010 and 2019 each county in Southeastern Michigan experienced a decline in the percentage of married couples with children under the age of 18 in the house. In both 2010 and 2019 Livingston County had the highest percentage of married individuals with a child; in 2010 that percentage was 30 percent, and in 2019 that percentage was 24 percent. Wayne County had the lowest percentage of married individuals in 2010 and 2019 at 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Monroe County experienced the largest decline of individuals married with children; in 2010 25 percent of individuals were married with at least one child under the age of 18, and by 2019 that declined 15 percent.

Overall, the data shows that we as a society are moving away from the traditional idea of love, marriage and a baby. As mindsets have shifted, so have economic conditions. What is in store for the tradition of marriage and a family remains unknown post-pandemic. 

Black Population in Southeastern Michigan has Lowest Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is a key metric in measuring public health and the chart below shows the life expectancy for everyone and then the white, black and Hispanic populations by race in Southeastern Michigan in 2019. The blue column shows what the average life expectancy was for all races in Southeastern Michigan, with Washtenaw County having the highest overall life expectancy at 84 years of age and Wayne County having the lowest at 75 years of age. The life expectancy for those in Michigan is 78 years of age.

When comparing life expectancy at the racial level in Southeastern Michigan we see that the black population had the lowest life expectancy across all counties while the Hispanic population typically had a higher life expectancy. Furthermore, Washtenaw County had the highest life expectancy for all of the populations examined, with the exception of the black population. In Washtenaw County, the life expectancy for the Hispanic population was 86; it was 76 for the black population and 82 for the white population.

Wayne County had the lowest life expectancy across all populations examined. In Wayne County, the life expectancy for the Hispanic population was 80, it was 72 for the black population and 77 for the white population.

For Livingston County, data was not available for the black population. Oakland County had the highest life expectancy for the black population at 77. This data is from the Centers for Disease Control 2019 Health Survey.

This data further highlights facts we all know; race and ethnicity do impact one’s life expectancy, as does where an individual lives, their education levels, income and genetic pre-dispositions. Of course, race often plays a factor into these factors as well. As we continue to explore health disparities it is vital to understand how underlying factors play a role in them and for us to determine how to create further equity in those too.

Such policies are certainly a tangled web, but their impacts are vast and have a direct impact on an individual’s life. Looking at the impact COVID-19 had on the black population in Michigan is an example of this. In April of 2020, it was found that 40 percent of COVID deaths at the time occurred in the black population, despite it only making up 14 percent of the State’s population. This staggering discovery brought on the creation of a statewide task force to investigate and address the disparity. According to the report the task force released in December, increased and strategic testing, primary care provider and telehealth access, public health campaigns and improved data quality on cases and deaths helped decrease the number of cases per capita in the black population. The number of cases between March and February dropped from 176 cases per million people per day to 44 cases per million people per day, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This decrease is a target result of targeted investigation, analysis and policy implementations. Now it is time to further the scope of such targeted efforts.

Affordable Care Act Making an Impact in Southeastern Michigan

The Affordable Care Act was signed into legislation nearly 11 years ago (March, 2010) and while it has faced hurdles and scrutiny from the public and the public policy world, data shows it has expanded healthcare coverage to Americans. As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, access to healthcare arguably grows more and more important.

As shown in the first graph below, Wayne County had the highest percentage of individuals without health insurance in 2019 at 6.8, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Washtenaw County had the lowest percentage at 3.7 percent. The second graph shows that Wayne County, despite continuously having the highest percentage of uninsured individuals, experienced the greatest decline in the percentage of those without insurance between 2010 and 2019 at 8.8 percentage points. In 2010 15.6 percent of the Wayne County population did not have health insurance, and by 2019 that decreased to 6.8 percent.

Overall, all seven counties in Southeastern Michigan experienced a decline in the percentage of individuals without insurance. It should be noted that it was 2014 when the marketplace for health insurance opened, and Medicaid eligibility was expanded. In this time frame Wayne County had the largest decrease in the percentage of individuals uninsured at 7.1 percent, followed by St. Clair County at 6.3. percent. While access to the marketplace has certainly helped in providing individuals with access to health insurance, the expansion of Medicaid has been key, particularly for lower income individuals.

While the percentage of individuals without health insurance remains concerning, we must also be aware of how those with health insurance obtain it. In Southeastern Michigan, majority of the population obtained health insurance from their employers in 2019. In Livingston County, 59.3 percent of the population had employer-based health insurance, which was the highest percentage in the region.  Conversely, Livingston County had lowest percentage of individuals with public health insurance at 10.9 percent (Medicaid or Medicare). Additionally, 6.8 percent of the population in Livingston County purchased their insurance directly in 2019.

In Wayne County, 29.2 percent of the population utilized public health insurance, while 41.6 percent of the population received health insurance from an employer and 3.3 percent purchased it directly (6.8 percent of the Wayne County population was uninsured, bringing the total to 100 percent). Wayne County had the lowest percentage of individuals with employer provided health insurance and direct purchase health insurance but the highest percentage of individuals with public health insurance. Additionally, Wayne County had the highest percentage of individuals without health insurance. This sheds light on the fact that many individuals working in Wayne County have jobs where health insurance is not offered or affordable and may not have the means or access to obtain it through other outlets.

Overall, the data shows that the Affordable Care Act has had an impact on individuals in Southeastern Michigan, with fewer individuals going without health insurance. There is still room for improvement though in ensuring the uninsured gap is filled.

Back to the Basics: Reviewing Southeastern Michigan’s Core Data

Drawing Detroit provides weekly updates on socioeconomic data related to Southeastern Michigan and beyond. By taking publicly available data, presenting it in easy digestible formats such as maps and charts and analyzing that data we are providing a deep understanding of the structure of our region. Understanding how the population of our region changes on an annual basis is vital in shaping public policy, determining long-term infrastructure investment and how a person and community can be successful. For example, population migration data on where people are moving to and from sheds light on where jobs are and where taxpayer dollars will be going. Educational attainment data highlights where greater investment is needed to ensure student success and access to educational opportunities; educational attainment also plays a role in a family’s median income. As we as a society work to improve, knowing and understanding the data that shows what short and long-term paths we are on will only help us in reaching our goals. This is why Drawing Detroit will provide annual updates on select data sets, to show where we as a region sit  

Topics that we will provide updates and dates into annually include: 

Population

Population data is essential for planning purposes. Knowing how many people live in an area, whether the population is on an upward or downward trajectory and what age and sex ratios makeup the population help determine infrastructure, school, housing and other community needs. It also determines representation from the government. 

Race and Ethnicity 

Data on a population’s race and ethnicity guides equal and equitable public policy and access to everyday needs. We know we live in a society where racism exists, access to jobs, educational opportunities, housing and so much more is often made more difficult because of the color of a person’s skin. By knowing where those gaps of inequities are we can work to remedy them, but we must first acknowledge they exist. 

Income and Poverty

Income data is a reflection of an area’s economic well-being, which ties directly to job and job training availabilities, educational attainment and access to housing, food and healthcare. Income data is also directly related to determining poverty levels. 

Education and Educational Attainment

Education and educational attainment data helps create opportunities for students by providing greater insight into what subject matters may need more attention in the curriculum to allow for student success. It also highlights where the gaps and barriers may be for students to reach certain levels of education, which plays a role in the type of careers they may have, what their average income may be and the overall economic well-being of the area they live in. 

Other areas of importance that we will update annually are:

  • Percent of vacant housing stock
  • Gun violence/deaths 
  • Traffic deaths 
  • Deaths caused by major health factors (heart disease, cancer, etc.)
  • State revenue sharing amounts and communities’ tax bases 

All of this data, and much more, is invaluable in understanding where we as a society, a community, a region stand and how we can move forward. The graphs displayed above show where the seven counties in Southeastern Michigan are in relation to these key data points as of 2019, according to Census data. For example, the data shows that Wayne County has the highest percentage of black residents in the region but the lowest levels of educational attainment, the lowest median age and the lowest median income. Wayne County also has the highest percentage of individuals living in poverty. We know all of these factors play into one another, and by keeping track of this data we can work toward better standards of living through education on the subject matter, changes in public policy and programming.

Have other topics you feel should be updated and discussed at least annually? Let us know by emailing drawingdetroit@gmail.com

Detroit’s Infant Mortality Rate Reaches 13 Year High

Michigan ranks 36th in the country in infant mortality and the City of Detroit has the highest number of infant deaths in the State, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, Detroit’s infant mortality rate was 16.7, the highest its been since 2002 when the rate was 16.8 These two rates translate to 9,476 (2018) infant deaths and 14,187 (2002) infant deaths, respectably. The infant death rate is the number of resident infant deaths divided by total resident live births X 1,000.  Infant deaths are deaths occurring to individuals less than 1 year of age.

As shown in the first chart below, Detroit infant mortality rates are consistently much higher than those of any county in Southeastern Michigan, and any other county in the State. Detroit’s infant mortality rates are also consistently higher than the State average. And, while the State’s infant mortality rates have been declining overall since 2000 Detroit’s rate has increased 3 points since 2016. It is important to remember that over 50 percent of children in Detroit families live below the poverty rate, far higher than elsewhere in the state.

Monroe and Livingston counties have regularly had the lowest rates; in some years not enough data was available for a rate. While we know that Detroit and Wayne County’s infant mortality rates are much higher than those in Monroe, Livingston and Washtenaw counties we also know that race plays a role in infant mortality rates. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans • Have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites;

•Are 3.8 times as likely to die from complications related to low birthweight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants;

•Had over twice the sudden infant death syndrome mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, in 2017.

Additionally, in 2017, African American mothers were 2.3 times more likely than non-Hispanic white mothers to receive late or no prenatal care. The evidence of these statistics are also apparent in the second chart below.

In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, the infant mortality rate for black babies in Detroit was 15.9 while for white babies it was 7.1. That gap between infant mortality rates of white and black was even larger at the State level ( 14.4 for black babies and 4.4 for white babies) and at the county level in the region (compared to that in Detroit), where median incomes tend to be higher. Furthermore, Detroit’s overall infant mortality rate is likely the highest in the State because it has among of the highest percentage of black residents. According to the US Census Bureau, 78 percent of Detroit’s population is black, 39 percent of Wayne County’s population is black while 1 percent of Livingston County’s population is black and 2 percent of Monroe County’s is black. Statewide, 14 percent of the population is black.

Not only should the increasing infant mortality rates of Detroit and Wayne County be of concern, but so should the causes. As alluded to above, race and income are contributing factors to infant mortality rates, as is racism. According to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s report “Strong Moms for Thriving Babies: Right Start 2020“ issues such as poverty and racism must be addressed in order for local infant mortality rates to decrease. Recommendations to do this include extending Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum; allowing for and enhancing reimbursement rates; increasing the number of high-quality home visiting programs to establish healthy starts for families by offering moms and their children, valuable health screenings and connecting families; restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit; and advocating for paid paternity leave.

Statewide, a $12.6 million annual budget for the new program “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” was approved as part of the 2021 budget. This program is aimed at decreasing the infant mortality rate while providing the resources in order to accomplish that goal. Components of this program include:

• Plans to expand healthcare coverage for a mother to a year;

•Moving a woman’s first postpartum visit to within three weeks, with a comprehensive visit within twelve weeks;

•Requiring implicit bias training for medical professionals;

•Expanding home visits;

•Allowing the woman to chose what form of birth control works best for her.

The problem, however, is that divided evenly this would provide only about $116 per child under one. If it were concentrated on only the 19%  of children in poverty, this would set aside a bit over $500 per child. Is it likely this is enough to make substantial change?

Ten Things Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Should Do for Detroit

There are two reasons Detroit should have a special place in President-elect Joe Biden’s heart. First, because Detroit needs real help–now. And second is because Detroit is one of the key places that brought his victory. Detroiters voted in massive numbers for him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and Democrats will need Detroit voters to win again. As the saying goes, you need to dance with the ones who brung you.

Here, then, are ten agenda items Biden and Harris should prioritize—giving back to a City that helped bring them into office.

1.Make plenty of vaccine doses available. Unemployment linked to COVID-19 closures have hit the poor and those in service jobs far harder than other industries. Unemployment numbers are more than double in Detroit than in Michigan. More vaccines mean it’s safer to go back to work, and Detroiters need that work and the accompanying income now. That will improve many other things mentioned here, including reducing violence.

2. Reduce the violence. We’ve seen major increases in murders and shootings. On surveys through the years, Detroiters have consistently said public safety is at the top of their agenda, but that does not translate to a desire for heavy duty police enforcement across the board. Rather than defund the police, Biden should talk about demilitarizing the police and making them responsive to the true needs of the community. Detroit citizens want tough action against the repeated violent offenders, but they want first time offenders and others diverted out of stigmatizing court process into community service, education and job training programs. For example, police regularly stop hundreds of people and arrest them for carrying illegal weapons. We need to divert these citizens into training programs that teach them about the risks of violence. We need to use conflict deflectors and de-escalators to reduce violence. Increased participation in youth sports and utilization of open community centers will also help deter violence. While many of these outlets have been closed and cancelled due to COVID restrictions, we must find ways to continue to offer such opportunities.  

3. Reduce domestic violence. Domestic violence, already high in Detroit, has increased under COVID-19, and the enforcement of parole violations for domestic violence offenders by Michigan Department of Corrections has declined.

Detroit has far fewer shelter beds than surrounding communities for survivors of domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV). This needs to be corrected immediately. Beyond that, survivors need to have far more access to advocates who can help them navigate the complex legal and support systems that do exist. They need more financial help to pay for things like moving to safe locations and serving Personal Protection Orders that are intended to help shield survivors from further violence.

4. Increase jobs for youth.  Detroit youth have extraordinary unemployment levels, well above the already high adult unemployment levels. This is a crisis, especially because we know that this will affect their lifetime earnings and connection to the workforce. Such high levels have led to challenges to democracy itself in other times and countries.

We need broad, youth employment programs funded by the federal government and operated by non-profits that do real work to help improve Detroit.  These jobs must create job ladders for youth so they have a future in which to invest.

5.Increase support for youth to go to college, apprenticeships, and training at community colleges. Many youth have no real way to pay for college.

We need to increase Pell Grants very substantially so youth who want higher education can get it without having a lifetime of debt, as so many do now. Apprenticeships and training in the skilled trades also often lead to good jobs with benefits and high wages—sometimes higher than college-educated jobs. These opportunities also need more funding so the youth have access to an even wider range of skills and jobs.

6.Fully fund special education. In Michigan, charter schools are implemented in a manner where they generally recruit higher performing students from the public schools, leaving the public schools with fewer higher performing students—who tend to cost less to educate. In major urban areas, charter schools proliferate and the public schools end up with a disproportionate share of special education students, which the charter schools avoid. These students cost more to educate. Because special education is not fully funded by the federal government, the costs are off loaded onto urban school districts in Michigan. These costs drive urban school districts into debt and decline. None of this makes it onto the debate stage, but this is the crucial work that needs to be completed to help Detroit and other cities like it. More federal funding is needed for special education students.

7.Invest massively in home repair. Detroit’s housing is crumbling with 63% of the housing units having at least one major health hazard. Lead paint, lack of heat, flooding, asbestos, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), structural hazards, fire hazards—these are all present across the range of homes in Detroit both for homeowners and renters.

Detroiters don’t have the money to pay for all these repairs, and Community Development Block Grant dollars continue to decrease. Money for repairs of existing homes is needed to make them safe and to protect existing residents from disease, injuries and break-ins. This will also protect them from gentrification.

8.Protect homeowners from foreclosure. This is a perennial issue in Detroit that turns into a crisis with every recession. In the Great Recession, many thousands of homes were wrenched from homeowners. Now foreclosures are high again.

Short term cash and longer term re-writing of mortgage agreements are critical to short circuiting this endless cycle of foreclosures that has already made Detroit a majority renter city. This too will protect existing homeowners from gentrification.

9.Invest heavily in weatherization. One the highest costs that Detroiters face are their utility bills, both for renters and homeowners. Leaky old houses mean huge heating bills that often take up a large part of the budgets of low and moderate income households. In neighborhoods like Southwest Detroit, where industry and traffic pollute the air, this weatherization should also include air filters to clear the air that people breathe most of the time (Americans typically spend 80% of their time in their homes).

The Obama Administration initiated a large weatherization program but the budget for that got nixed by the GOP in Congress. Now is the time to move forward with this both for the sake of everyday Detroiters and the sake of the planet.

10.Build Community Solar. Unlike many cities, Detroit has lots of open space that could be used for solar energy production. DTE, our local utility, mainly produces electricity from coal, which hurts the planet and the lungs of Detroiters. And, Michigan produces none of this coal. Another way to help Detroiters reduce their utility cost is use some of the massive amount of vacant land in the city for building community solar installations. With investment from the federal government, these could be owned by Community Development Corporations or others who could sell the solar power at cost to homeowners nearby. Investing in these small-scale production facilities would produce installer jobs for Detroiters, increase reliance on alternative sources of electricity, cut costs for citizens and make appropriate use of vacant land.

COVID’S Economic Impacts Continue in Michigan and Beyond

Twenty-twenty may be a wrap but the COVID-19 pandemic continues on and the economic impacts continue to be felt, nationally and locally. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, on Jan. 2, 2021 there were 497,127 confirmed COVID-19 cases; that is 8,983 new confirmed cases since Dec. 29, 2020 (the State did not release data over the New Year’s holiday). According to the five-day rolling average (shown in the chart below) there were 489,096 confirmed COVID cases in Michigan on Dec. 31, 2020. New case numbers continue to remain in the thousands, and while the vaccine is in its first phase of distribution, we still have a ways to go until the affects of this virus—physically, economically, socially and mentally—are no longer felt.

In November of 2020 the unemployment rates for the State of Michigan and for the City of Detroit increased after general declines between July and October. The State of Michigan reported an unemployment rate of 6.3 in November, a higher rate than what was reported in October, which was 5.7—the lowest rate reported since the pandemic began. While the November unemployment rate was still lower than what was reported between April and September of 2020, it was still an increase from October and likely a reflection of the stronger COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the State and growing caution from citizens as the confirmed case numbers began to rapidly increase.

For the City of Detroit, the unemployment rate for November of 2020 was 18.7, which is higher than the October rate of 15.4. While Detroit’s unemployment numbers remain much higher than what they were a year ago and above the State’s, the city is following the same trend as the State. Furthermore, the November unemployment data shows how the unemployment gap between the State and Detroit continues to grow wider as the case numbers increase.

A direct reflection of the unemployment data above is the number of small business closures. According to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), 33 percent of small businesses in Metro-Detroit closed as of Dec. 30, 2020. While this lower than the May 12, 2020 local small business closure percentage of 54 it is still far above the 3 percent closure rate on April 1, 2020—less than a month after COVID hit Michigan.

The data on the percentage of small business closures is determined through the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker. This source uses credit card transaction data from 500,000 small businesses and estimates closures from the number of small businesses not having at least one transaction in the previous three days. The data covers industries such as healthcare services, leisure and hospitality, and retail and transportation.

Michigan’s economy continues to rely heavily on the auto industry and between February and March of 2020 auto sales for cars, trucks and light weight vehicles were cut in half. Since then, the number of auto sales has slowly, yet steadily, grown—but not to pre-pandemic levels. In November of 2020 auto sales for: light weight vehicles was 15.5 million, compared to 16.9 million the year prior; light truck sales was 11.8 million compared to 12.6 million in November of 2019; car sales was 3.8 million, compared to 4.4 million the year prior. All three types of vehicles have experienced a decline, with light weight vehicles experiencing the largest decline when comparing 2019 sales to present sales.

Below shows the consumption expenditures of goods in the U.S. between 2019 and 2020. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, durable goods have an average useful life of at least 3 years (e.g. motor vehicles) while nondurable goods have an average useful life of less than 3 years (e.g. food) and services are commodities that cannot be stored or inventoried and are consumed at the time of purchase (e.g., dining out). The chart below shows how in March of 2020 consumption of nondurable goods increased while consumption of durable goods and services decreased. Following the initial panic of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumption expenditures of nondurable goods decreased in April, 2020 and have since somewhat leveled off. In November of 2020 $3167 billion in nondurable goods was consumed and in November, 2019 $3017 billion in nondurable goods was consumed.  Overall, there has been an increase in consumption expenditures of nondurable goods since last year. For durable goods, $1813 billion was consumed in November of 2020 and in November of 2019 $2032 billion was consumed; this shows an overall decrease.

Services have been the hardest hit in terms of expenditure consumption. In November of 2020 $8014 billion in services was consumed and in November of 2019 $8589 billion was consumed.

In addition to COVID impacts on employment rates and consumption of goods and services, it has also impacted the sale prices of homes. However, the pandemic seems to have had the opposite effect—home prices have continued to increase.

According to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the average price of single-family dwellings sold in Metro Detroit was $135,760 in September of 2020; this was $164 higher than the average family dwelling price in August. The September 2020 price was an increase of $8,290 from September of 2019.