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.