Proposed Michigan Water Affordability Bill Meets Opposition

Access to clean water and the ability to afford it is boiling over to a new proposal to help households with their water bills. Recently, Democratic lawmakers in the Michigan House of Representatives and the State Senate introduced bills that, if passed, would create a statewide affordability fund for low-income residents to access. The fund would be created by charging a $2 monthly fee to water customers across the state.

This proposal, discussed in detail below, is now drawing fire from Macomb County leaders and Republicans who say it will primarily benefit Detroiters.

 According to a bill analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency (SFA), the estimated amount collected in the proposed water affordability fund, assuming  all 2.5 million retail water meters in Michigan were subject to the $2 per month funding factor fee would be $90 million. When the fund reaches $90 million, 3 percent of the monies, or $2.7 million, could be allocated for administrative costs associated with the program. The remainder of that assumed initial balance, $87.3 million, would be available for:

  • Actual administrative costs of the water providers, which would be limited to 15 percent of the balance in the Fund which after 18 months could be estimated at $13.1 million;
  • Payment or advancement to providers for income-based bill discounts; income-based bill caps, or income-based rates;
  • Arrearage payments;
  • Water loss mitigation programs.

Those eligible to benefit from this program would be customers who had a household income of up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or who was eligible for certain assistance programs. Eligible customers for this program, which would be housed under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, would not pay more than 3 percent of their household income on a water bill.

This program has been lauded by some and opposed by others. In recent weeks, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Oakland County Executive David Coulter, Royal Oak, Harper Woods and Warren officials, Oakland County Water Resource Commissioner Jim Nash and Wayne County Deputy County Executive Assad I. Turfe have come out in support of the bills to create this fund. Area organizations, such as the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and American Waterworks Association, have also come out in support of the proposed bills. Supporters of these bills have discussed how water affordability is a human right, and these programs will allow that human right to continue for thousands of households.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller is the most vocal official against the bills, stating it would only increase water bills for customers and that there already is access to water affordability programs. She says it will primarily benefit Detroiters. Seventeen Macomb County communities agree with Miller and have passed resolutions opposing the bills that could create the statewide water affordability programs. Those 17 communities are:

  • Armada (Village)
  • Bruce Township
  • Center Line
  • Chesterfield Township
  • Clinton Township
  • Fraser
  • Harrison Township
  • Memphis
  • Mount Clemens
  • Lenox Township
  • Macomb Township
  • New Haven
  • Roseville
  • Shelby Township
  • St. Clair Shores
  • Sterling Heights
  • Washington Township

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners also voted to take a stance against the bills, and ultimately the proposed fund.

According to Miller, water affordability programs, such as the Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP) administered by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) are not fully used as is. The counter argument to this is that programs such as WRAP offer short-term support for those in need of assistance and other programs, such as the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s Lifeline Plan, have a one-off funding mechanism (ARPA) funds, and more sustainable funding mechanisms are needed. Additionally, there is no statewide assistance program, rather there are various affordability programs depending on the water provider and the location of the ratepayer. There are worries though that the proposed state affordable water fund would primarily support Detroit residents, according to a January, 2024 C&G News article.

According to the proposed bills, eligible customers are households whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines or who meets any of the following requirements:

  • Has received assistance from a State Emergency Relief Program within the past year.
  • Receives food assistance under the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) administered by State.
  • Receives medical assistance administered under the Act. Receives assistance under the Michigan Energy Assistance Program.
  • Receives assistance under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, And Children (WIC). Receives supplemental security income
  • Receives assistance under the Weatherization Assistance Program.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in 2020 more than 317,000 Michigan households were behind on their water bills and facing shutoffs. Furthermore, if looking at eligibility requirements as set out by the proposed bills, there were 309,101 families in Southeastern Michigan who were living at least 200 percent of the poverty level and 190,113 households with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash public assistance income, or Food Stamps/SNAP benefits in 2022, according to the US Census Bureau.

According to the Census data, Wayne County had the highest number of families living at least 200 percent below the poverty level at 133,492, followed by Macomb County at 44,218 and Oakland County at 41,037. Looking at the total number of families in Southeastern Michigan who live at least 200 percent below the poverty level, minus Wayne County, there are 124,568. In total, there are 258,060 families living 200 percent below the poverty line in Southeastern Michigan and 48 percent of those families live in either Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair or Washtenaw counties. Furthermore, with there being 309,101 total families in Michigan that live 200 percent below the poverty line, Wayne County families account for less than half that total.

When looking at the number of families who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash public assistance income, or Food Stamps/SNAP benefits in 2022 it was Wayne County that had the highest number of households, by far, at 47,646. Macomb County had the second highest number of households at 18,792 and Oakland County had the third highest number of households at 16,100. In Michigan in 2022 there were 190,113 families who received some type of assistance and Southeastern Michigan families make up 50 percent of that number.

So, while those who oppose the proposed bills claim the funds from the statewide water bill support program would primarily be filtered to Detroiters, the data shown above tells a different story.

The numbers certainly show there are families who are likely in need of utility bill support and $24 a year per household could go a long way for many. However, annually that number can increase by up to 10 percent to a maximum of $3 per retail water meter per month, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency bill analysis. If these bills are to become law and the program is created there needs to be strong program support, ensuring those in need and eligible for the program are aware of the benefit and have assistance in applying for the benefits. The monies, if charged to ratepayers, need to be used to support those in need throughout the state and ensure access to clean and fresh water.

Michigan Recycling Trends Upward, More Efforts Needed to Offset Waste Disposal

With a re-ignited commitment to sustainability, the State of Michigan has experienced an increase in the amount of materials being recycled. According to a 2023 report  (2023 Michigan Recycling: State of the State) by the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment (EGLE), Michigan’s recycling rate increased 35 percent since prior to 2019 to 2022. This report states that Michigan now has a 19 percent recycling rate, in part because of greater access to and greater funding for this key element in sustainability. According to the report, more than $460 million has been invested in recycling for everything from new technology to equipment upgrades to hiring new employees since 2019.

As Michigan continues to up its commitment to recycling efforts, it is important to understand just what is being recycled in the state and how much. According to the 2023 EGLE Recycling Report, 620,494 tons of materials were recycled in Michigan last year, with paper and paper products making up majority of those materials being recycled. According to the breakdown in the report, there was about 339,000 tons of paper and paper materials recycled in 2022. Ferrous materials, which are metals that contain iron, were the second most recycled items in 2022 with there being about 110,000 tons.  Ferrous materials also had the largest percent change increase in the number of tons recycled between 2021 and 2022 at 443 percent. Single stream recycling materials (which are all recyclables, including newspaper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum and junk mail that are eventually sorted into various commodity streams for sale to markets) had the largest year-to-year percent change decrease at 51 percent. There was also a year-to-year percent change decrease for paper and paper products at 9 percent.

While understanding what is being recycled is important, understanding the resources available for residents and businesses to recycle may be even more important. According to the 2023 EGLE Recycling Report, 75 percent of Michigan households, or about 2.9 million households, have access to curbside recycling or drop-off locations. Digging deeper into this statistic, according to a University of Michigan March 2022 Michigan Public Policy Survey on Recycling, the majority of counties (which are viewed as different than local jurisdictions such as cities, townships and villages) provide access to a drop-off recycling facility (78%) household hazard waste collection (77%) and household electronic equipment collection (71%). Fifty-three percent of counties provide curbside recycling services (shown in Chart 4), and 41 percent of local jurisdictions provide those services (Chart 5).

Chart 6 digs deeper into how those curbside recycling services are provided, as described in the survey. According to the survey, 49 percent of Michigan local government jurisdictions contract with a private entity to provide curbside recycling services, and 35 percent of those jurisdictions have their residents directly contract with a private entity for such services. It is important to remember that these jurisdictions range from populations of 1,000 or less to 30,000 or more. Seventy-eight percent of jurisdictions with populations of 30,000 or more contract with a private entity to provide curbside recycling services to their residents while 47 percent of jurisdictions with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 have their residents directly contract with a private entity, and 40 percent of jurisdictions with populations between 1,500 and 5,000 also have their residents directly contract with a private entity.

Through the data highlighted we know that there are various levels of recycling services provided to residents and businesses to make this sustainability effort easier. We also know that it is not just the state’s priority to increase recycling rates, but also local jurisdictions’. For example, of the $460 million invested in recycling over the last several years,  about 80 percent of it has come from local government, nonprofits, and businesses across the state. But, while  our efforts are increasing, the amount of waste Michigan accepted into its landfills increased between 2021 ( 50,918,462 tons) and 2022 (51,990,037 tons). It is important to note that the amount of waste Michigan dumped into its landfills decreased between 2021 and 2022, but the amount it accepted from Canada and other U.S. states increased. Overall, 76 percent of the waste in Michigan’s landfills is from Michigan, 18.6 percent is from Canada and 5.3 percent is from other states.

The State of Michigan has made great strides in its commitment to recycling, with greater transparency, more data and more resources available. But the other key piece of addressing Michigan’s (and the country’s) climate change issue is reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills through reduction of consumption. Additionally, the practice of accepting solid waste from other states and countries must also be halted.

Municipalities Embracing Programs to Combat Climate Change

The impacts of climate change are growing every year, and while those impacts vary by location, they are evident and growing. As individuals we directly impact climate change through our behaviors, for better or worse, and while personal actions can bring great change, governmental policies and programs can have lasting effects. We often hear about the climate action policies and programs set forth by the federal and state government, but local governments are stepping forward to combat climate change as well. Through the creation of sustainability offices and positions, the implementation of climate action plans, the building of climate resiliency hubs, and more, local governments throughout Michigan are stepping up to improve their residents’ quality of life.

Some noteworthy examples of local government sustainability practices and programs include:

Ann Arbor: In 2022 a 20-year, 1 mill climate-action tax proposal was approved by voters to provide funds for the city to investment in renewable energy and other initiatives that will allow Ann Arbor to reach carbon-neutrality, or the A2Zero goal, by 2030. The millage revenue will fund programs and services that will include rebates for households and businesses to use solar or geothermal energy and make energy-efficiency upgrades, the growth of accessibility of electric vehicle chargers, the creation of rain gardens, more tree plantings and increases in recycling, composting, pedestrian/cycling infrastructure and more. In addition to having community support for climate action programs, Ann Arbor also has a Sustainability Office dedicated to the sense of urgency required to combat and alleviate the impacts of climate change. The work of this office is guided by the Ann Arbor Carbon Neutrality Plan: A2ZERO. Ann Arbor’s commitment to carbon neutrality is clear, not only through its adopted policies but also through its funding allocations. From staffing to a contract selection process that prioritizes outside organizations with sustainability practices, Ann Arbor’s commitment to improving the environment, and lives, through sustainable practices is clear.

Detroit: The state’s largest city has a Sustainability Office with the mission of leading initiatives that reduce emissions, increase resiliency and improve residents’ quality of life. This office carries out items from the City’s Climate Action Agenda and Strategy, administrates Detroit’s Solar Neighborhood Initiative and aims to reduce waste and accelerate energy efficiency in Detroit. The Solar Neighborhood Initiative is one of the many programs being implemented to combat climate change. This program aims to turn 250 acres of vacant land in the city into solar energy centers that will generate enough clean energy to offset the electricity used currently by 127 city buildings. The locations will be selected in early 2024.

Additionally, Detroit just opened its first Resilience Hub at AB Ford Park called the Lenox Center, which is located on the city’s east side near the Detroit River. The Lenox Center is one of three resilience centers being brought to the eastside of Detroit through the Resilient Eastside Initiative. The other two are the Eastside Community Network’s headquarters at Stoudamire Wellness Hub near Conner and Warren, and Brilliant Detroit’s literacy center in the Chandler Park neighborhood. The Resilient Eastside Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Eastside Community Network (ECN), the City of Detroit, Brilliant Detroit, and Elevate, a nonprofit based in Chicago. Resilience hubs were built to be able withstand many of the impacts of climate change, serve as centers for emergency management, reduce carbon pollution and bring a community together regularly.

Macomb County: Through the Resilient Macomb project, a land use and community development project focused on the natural resources in Harrison and Chesterfield townships, New Baltimore and St. Clair Shores (all along Lake St. Clair), management of the areas climate variability and its impacts were studied. This project focused on the coastal issues of the area (flooding, water quality) and how they can be addressed while improving the economic opportunities in the area. This study/report was developed by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA), a nonprofit community service and planning organization headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, and is now in the process of being implemented.

Monroe County: The Resilient Monroe was sponsored by the City of Monroe, Frenchtown Charter Township and Monroe Charter Township and resulted in a Resilient Monroe Resource Atlas. This atlas provides several recommendations focused on increasing use of multi-modal transportation, supporting local agriculture and buying from such producers, and protecting water systems. The document also focuses on growing the area’s economy while understanding the changing environment. 

While these are some notable programs and policies in place by local government entities to combat climate change and promote sustainability, many others are also doing what they can. For example, the City of Ferndale has a sustainability coordinator and office that focuses on programs such as their Waste Reduction and Recycling Master Plan and their Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report. Cities throughout the state are installing rain gardens to help prevent flooding and promote natural landscaping. Sustainability citizen groups administrated by municipalities, all with the goal of bringing buy-in to sustainable practices, also occur throughout the state. Regional organizations, such as the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Municipal League host seminars, pull together municipal leaders for greater thought power and create programs all aimed reducing the impacts of climate change and increasing resiliency.

To witness such steps occurring beyond the state and federal levels is inspiring, but remaining committed to the implementation is key, as is weaving the principles of sustainability into all goals, policies and programs. As has already been shown, climate change is impacting Southeast Michigan through more heat waves, flooding and extreme precipitation events. To combat these impacts, and the impacts of our actions at a global scale, both large and small changes in how we conduct our lives-from grocery shopping to the work we perform to how obtain our energy and beyond-must be altered, with the goals being centered around carbon neutrality and sustainability. The programs and policies discussed in this post can serve as guide posts for all municipalities to explore and tailor to their communities’ makeup and needs.

Michigan’s Minimum Wage Increases, Changes Could Still Be Coming

Michigan’s minimum wage increased to $10.33 on Jan. 1, 2024, in accordance with the Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act of 2018. Under the law as it currently stands, the minimum wage is set to increase to $12.05 an hour by 2030, depending on the state’s unemployment rate. Furthermore, the tipped wage rate will increase to $3.93 an hour. Depending on a Michigan State Supreme Court ruling though, the hourly rate improvements could shift.

In 2018 a petition to increase Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 by 2022, while also accounting for inflation, received 280,000 signatures from voters. The Republican-led Michigan Legislature at the time adopted the language of the petition but then amended the language. These amendments slowed plans to increase Michigan’s minimum wage and also eliminated the plan to eventually eliminate the lower tipped wage in restaurants, instead maintaining the wage rate at 38 percent of the full minimum wage. This issue has been in Michigan Courts, with the focus specifically being on the legality of the legislature adopting petition language and then amending it. The Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion ruling that found the Michigan Legislature did not act unconstitutionally when it adopted petition language and amended in the same session in 2018. This opinion has been appealed and the issue is now being taken up by the Michigan Supreme Court.

As is shown in the chart below, Michigan’s minimum wage has been steadily increasing since 2015 when it was $8.15 an hour. Prior to that it plateaued at $7.40 an hour between 2009 to 2013. Michigan’s minimum wage also remained stagnant between 1998 and 2006, 1981 to  1997, 1976 to 1978, 1972 to 1975 and 1968 to 1971, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In theory, increasing the minimum wage will also increase the earnings of most low-wage workers. With a minimum wage of $10.33 an hour in 2024, a full-time worker earning that wage could make about $21,400 a year, assuming they worked 40 hours a week for a full year. This would be an increase, if making the same assumptions, from an annual salary of about $20,500 a year with an hourly rate of $10.10 (2023 minimum wage).  According to the US Census Bureau, less than 10 percent of households in each county in Southeast Michigan made between $15,000 and $24,999 a year in 2022. So, even with a minimum wage increase, many of those households earning below $25,000 a year will remain under that threshold. This is a threshold that is below the poverty level for a family of four.

According to, an individual earning $13,590 or below in 2022 was considered to be living at or below the poverty level, this number increased to $14,580 in 2023. For a family of four the poverty level was $27,750 in 2022 and $30,000 in 2023.

In 2022, the year for which the most recent data is available, Wayne County had the highest percentage of households living at or below the poverty level in the seven-county region at 20.2 percent. Monroe, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties were the only other ones in the region with more than 10 percent of households living at or below the poverty level. Wayne County also had the highest percentage of households earning between $15,000 and $24,999 a year at 9.3 percent. Furthermore, Wayne County had the lowest median household income in the region at $55,867. Livingston County had the lowest percentage of households living at or below the poverty level in 2022 at 4.9 percent and had the highest median income at $100,139.

So, while the minimum wage increased in Michigan, and helping those with among the lowest earnings in the state, the gap between the minimum wage and a living wage still exists. A living wage is the hourly rate that an individual in a household must earn to support his or herself and their family. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, $16.27 an hour is the amount an individual needs to earn to make a living wage.

An increased minimum wage not only increases the earnings of some of Michigan’s lowest earning workers, but it also has been shown to have positive impacts on physical and mental health, well-being and educational outcomes.

UAW Strike Impacts and What it Could Have Meant

Just over seven weeks ago United Auto Workers (UAW) members who work for Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis across the US strategically went on strike. The strikes began because the UAW workers have been fighting for better wages, including a restoration of cost of living pay raises, improved pension plans and additional benefits. As is noted later in this post, inflation continues to occur in Michigan, and throughout the country, and for example, 36 percent of Detroit residents earn a living wage, according to a University of Michigan Economic Outlook report.

As the number of UAW facilities on strike expanded over the last six weeks so did the states where the facilities are housed. Not only has Michigan been impacted by the strikes but also California, Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. With all of the Big Three having UAW employees on strike, this marks the first time this has occurred since at least 1960 during a contract negotiation year.

Now, while tentative agreements between the UAW and Ford, GM and Stellantis are moving toward ratification impacts from the strike, and the new ratified contracts, are sure to be felt. According to CBS Detroit,  UAW employees of the Big Three will experience wage increases of 25 percent over the life of the contracts, along with items such as the restoration of cost-of-living allowances, the elimination of some wage tiers, increased 401K contributions and more. As these new tentative contracts make their way toward becoming reality for thousands of Big Three employees (voting and ratification still needs to occur), other automotive companies appear to be eyeing, and responding, to the changes too. According to the Detroit Free Press, Toyota recently announced they would be boosting wages by 9 percent and reducing the time it takes for workers to get to top wage; this will become effective Jan. 1.

With increased wages and improved wages coming down the pipeline soon for UAW employees, which should also have a positive affect on the overall economy, it should also be noted the financial impact the UAW strike has had.  According to the Anderson Economic Group, LLC., the costs of the UAW strike reached $10.4 billion in its sixth week, with wage losses of Original Equipment Manufacturers workers being $650 million, losses to the Big 3 Manufacturers being estimated at $4.3 billion, lost wages and earnings to supplier companies and workers being estimated at $3.3 billion and loses to dealers, customers, and ancillary auto industry workers being estimated at $2 billion. With contracts still needing to be ratified, plants needing to reopen and several other housekeeping matters needing to occur, it is also projected that losses will continue for at least another short while.

Michigan, which is home to the highest number of UAW employees, was predicted to experience personal income loss for over 66,000 people if UAW workers at the Ford, GM and Stellantis all striked.  This prediction scenario was published in an Analysis of the Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Potential UAW Strike Scenarios  by the University of Michigan right before the strike. While not every UAW plant went on strike these early projections do show a more drilled down look at the impacts of UAW strikes. For example, the analysis estimated personal income loss by for Ford UAW employees for a one- or two-week strike could have resulted in a total employment loss of 28,000 jobs statewide (including the 22,000 striking workers). The total personal income loss for this period could have been $50 million by the second week. Following two weeks of strikes it was projected Ford the suppliers would also begin to feel the impact of the strike (which they did), and a month after striking, the University of Michigan projected 54,000 people could have been unemployed as a result of the Ford UAW strike in the state, with a cumulative personal income loss of $150 million. Now, if the strike were to push to 8 weeks that unemployment number could grow to 105,000 total job losses in Michigan, along with a cumulative personal income loss of $610 million, according to the University of Michigan. For strikes longer than eight weeks, the total job loss for Michigan would likely remain at 105,000, but personal income losses would continue to accumulate.

This report, which was published before the strike, also hypothesized that a strike could also bring on a loss in tax revenue. According to the University of Michigan, a one-week strike could result in a loss of $1.8 million in state tax revenue. That number grows to $10.9 million for a four-week strike and $41.2 million for an eight-week strike.

While the above example sheds light on the impact a Ford UAW strike could have/had on the Michigan economy, similar effects were projected to occur with GM and Stellantis UAW workers strike too. According to the University of Michigan’s report, a one- or two-week strike at GM was projected to produce a total employment loss of 25,000 jobs (including the 20,000 striking workers), with a total personal income loss of $40 million by the second week and a $1.6 million loss in state revenue. If all UAW Stellantis employees went on strike, it was projected a one- or two-week strike could have produced a statewide total employment loss of 31,000 jobs (including the 25,000 striking workers), with a total personal income loss of $50 million by the second week. Additionally, a  one-week UAW Stellantis strike could have resulted in a loss of $1.9 million in state tax revenue, according to the University of Michigan report.

As noted, the above information is all based on simulation and speculation of all UAW workers at all three companies being on strike in unison. On Sept. 15 UAW union members were instructed to go on strike, but at targeted auto plants, and not all of them. Since then, as we know, the number of plants on strike has grown, but not every plant went on strike from day one.

As mentioned early, one of the items negotiated into the UAW contracts was cost of living increases, which are based on the rate of inflation. The charts below show the percent changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) on a month-to-month basis and a year-to-year basis for each month in years 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 in the Midwest Region. The CPI is a measure that examines the weighted average of prices of consumer goods and services, such as transportation, food, energy, housing and medical care. It is calculated by taking price changes for each item in the predetermined group of goods and averaging them.

The first  chart below highlights how the CPI changed on a month-to-month basis between 2019 and 2023. Currently in 2023, the region’s prices were up 0.2 percent in the month of August. The highlights for the change include:

•Overall, food prices declined 0.1 percent for the month of August. Prices for food at home fell 0.2 percent, while prices for food away from home (restaurant, cafeteria, and vending purchases) increased 0.2 percent for the same period.

•The energy index increased by 3.4 percent over the month, due almost entirely to an increased price in gasoline (6.7 percent). However, natural gas prices declined  (0.5 percent, as did prices for electricity (0.1 percent).

•Rent (+0.4 percent) and medical care (+1 percent) and apparel (+2 percent) also contributed to the increase in the month-to-month CPI increase.

When examining the second chart, which shows how prices changed on a year-to-year basis,  we see how prices remain higher than this time in 2019, 2020 and 2021 but not higher than 2022.

In August of 2023 the CPI was reported to be 3.4 percent above what it was the year prior. Contributing factors to the continued increase in the CPI include

•Food prices increasing 3.4 percent over the last year, with away from home food prices increasing 5.4 percent

•The cost of electricity decreased by 6.6 percent, with the 28.6 percent decline in the price of natural gas playing a large role in the overall decline

•Owners’ equivalent rent of residences increasing 6.9 percent and rent of primary residence increasing 7 percent 

•Recreation prices increasing 4.3 percent

With cost of living continuing to increase and wages and benefits often not keeping up and increased desires for improved work life balances other workers in Michigan and beyond are also striking. In Michigan, 3,700 casino workers went a strike just over a month ago, demanding increased wages, reduced work loads and job security. In Portland, Oregon more than 3,500 members of the Portland Association of Teachers went on strike for similar reasons. This strike has shut down the 81 schools in the Portland School District.

According to an August 2023 Gallup Poll report, labor unions continue to enjoy high support in the U.S., with 67% of Americans approving of them. This is down slightly from its 2022 approval rating of 71 percent but significantly up from its 2009 approval rating low of 48 percent.

Additionally, Gallop reports, and recent events solidify that Americans have become more likely than a to want unions’ influence to improve their work lives and that they benefit various aspects of business and the economy.

In Michigan, actions by the legislature show that Unions are gaining back strength. Legislation on its way to be signed by the Governor repeals the 2023 Right-to-Work law that essentially allowed union employees to opt out of payment.

Detroit’s Residential and Business Vacancies Decline

In December of 2020 the US Postal Service reported 74,313 total vacant properties in the City of Detroit, equivalent to a 19 percent vacancy rate. This rate is the lowest report rated since 2015, as can be seen in the first chart below. Additionally in 2020 the Postal Service reported 317,272 occupied addresses.

According to the first map below, while the overall vacancy rate in December of 2020 was 19 percent, there were several areas in the City with much higher rates. The highest rates were near I-96 and Gratiot Avenue in the City of Detroit, with the highest overall rate for a Census Tract being 52.3 percent in the Morningside/Chandler Park area. Conversely, vacancies remained the lowest in the Downtown Detroit area and Green Acres/Pembroke/Bagley areas. High vacancy rates in the City ranged from 31-52.3 percent and low vacancy rates ranged from 1.9 to 9.3 percent. Between September and December of 2020 the vacancy rate decreased by 0.3 percent. Additionally, the vacancy rate had an annual 2 percent decrease plus a 2.8 percent decrease over a five-year time period. The second map below shows the long-term trends; all but seven Census Tracts experienced a decrease in vacancy or little to no change between 2019 and 2020. The Chandler Park area had the highest increase in vacancy rates between December 2019 and 2020 at 3.5 percent.

The USPS provides aggregate vacancy and no-stat counts (see explanation below) of residential and business addresses that are collected by postal workers and submitted to on a quarterly basis the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While occupancy status is recorded, USPS does not capture any information about the nature of the vacancy or the address itself, other than whether it is a residential or business address. To the USPS, the address is either occupied and requires mail service or is vacant and does not. An address is deemed vacant if it did not collect mail for 90 days or longer. In addition to occupied and vacant addresses there are also “no stat” addresses. A “no stat” address is called that if it is under construction and not yet occupied or is in an urban area and identified by a carrier as not likely to be active for some time.

As noted, overall vacancy rates in the City of Detroit have been declining, and this also true at both the residential and business levels. Residential vacancy rates in September of 2015 were 22.6 percent, which was equivalent to 81,666 residential vacancies. By December of 2020 that number of vacancies decreased to 19.3 percent, or 67,442 total vacancies.

For business vacancies in December 2020 there was a total of  6,871 vacant businesses out of 28,438 total businesses in the City.  This was equivalent to 24.2 percent. In September of 2015 the vacancy rate was 24.6 percent for a total of 7,337 vacant businesses out of 29,885.

Examining both charts below we see that there has been a steadier decline in residential vacancy rates than business vacancy rates. Between 2015 and 2019 business vacancies were actually climbing, and reached a high of 28 percent in December of 2018. Then, through the pandemic declined substantially, though it is not clear why.

According to the USPS there was 27,878 “no stat” addresses reported in Detroit in December of 2020, an increase of 3,884 from the year prior.

Environmental Injustices Continue in Detroit

Environmental injustice occurs when certain populations, typically those who are marginalized, and the environment are both harmed from certain actions. We have seen this occur with the Flint water crisis and we continue to witness it right here in Detroit. While pollution can come in many forms, it is air pollution that we are focusing on in this post and what is at least one factor in Detroit’s environmental injustice.

Before we dive into some of the sources of Detroit’s air pollution it is important to understand Detroit’s socioeconomic makeup. With a population of about 620,000 residents, 78 percent of the population is black, nearly 25 percent of the population is under the age of 18 and 32 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau.

Furthermore, according to the University of Michigan School of Public Health it is estimated that air pollution kills more than 650 Detroiters a year, with thousands more being hospitalized and children missing a disproportionate number of days at school because of illnesses and asthma.

According to the 2021 update on the State of Michigan’s “Detroit: The Current Status of Asthma Burden,” the asthma rate of the in the City of Detroit in 2019 was four times higher than the State of Michigan’s rate. Additionally, there were 1,458 asthma hospitalizations of Detroit residents in 2019.

Between 2017 and 2019, 71 Detroit residents died due to asthma. The rate of asthma mortality among Detroit residents was 31.4 per 1,000,000 population. The rate of asthma mortality in Detroit in 2017-2019 was about three times the rate for Michigan as a whole.

Now, when further digging into asthma rates el, the “Detroit: The Current Status of Asthma Burden,” states that in 2019, the rate of asthma hospitalization among Detroit’s Black population was 31 per 10,000 while the rate among Detroit’s white population was 7.9 per 10,000.  Asthma hospitalization among Detroit Blacks were over three times that of Detroit whites. Michigan Blacks had over five times the hospitalization rate of Michigan whites.

According to the American Lung Association, the exact cause of asthma remains unknown, but there are certain factors that play a role in developing the disease. These factors include family history, allergies, viral respiratory infections, obesity, smoking, certain jobs and air pollution, especially including dust and mold.

As noted in our last post, there are several secondary particle pollution sources that have a negative impact on the area’s air quality in Metro-Detroit. According to, a global non-profit organization that independently traces greenhouse gas emissions, some of the area’s highest emitters are an oil refinery, two steel plants, an airport and a powerplant. These emitters are:

Marathon Petroleum CO Detroit:

Ranked 378/80,188 Worldwide: for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Cleveland-Cliffs Dearborn Steel Plant

Ranked 296/80,188: for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Ranked 917/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Gerdau Monroe Steel Plant

Ranked 1,450/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Monroe Michigan Power Plant (DTE)

Ranked 37/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Other secondary sources that contribute to particle pollutants in the Metro-Detroit are the the Mistersky and River Rouge power plants, highways, the Ambassador Bridge and Stellantis manufacturing plants in Warren and on Detroit’s eastside.

The media has long reported the history of the Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code, which is located in Southwest Detroit. With the Marathon plant and the DTE Delray and Mistersky powerplants, along with nearby highways and international trucking routes (Ambassador Bridge and soon to be Gordie Hower International Bridge), the amount of air pollution in this area is at concerning levels.

According to a recent released by the University of Michigan School of Public Health, between 2016-2021 the major source of PM2.5 ( which is fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller) in the area was “mobile sources of emissions,” or vehicle exhaust and construction equipment, at 40 percent. Industrial sources of emissions also contributed a “sizable” amount to the PM2.5 levels, but were on the decline due to recent closures of coal-burning power plants and other facilities in the area.

Another area of growing concern is Detroit’s eastside, where the Stellantis production plant has not only grown to two production lines, but the amount of traffic has also increased due to the addition of a logistics warehouse that services the Stellantis plant. As has been noted in this and previous air quality posts, high traffic and industrial areas are major factors in both environmental pollution and an individual’s health.

So, what we know thus far is that Detroit is a primarily a city composed of minorities, particularly African-Americans and Hiuspanics with a lower median income than neighboring communities in Southeast Michigan. We also know that in Detroit there are pockets of dedicated space for industry, whether it be manufacturing plants, power plants or other forms that push PM2.5 into the air. Poor air quality is not only a major concern for many Detroit residents, but also a reality. This type of environmental injustice has led to severe health problems for thousands of residents, both children and adults.

With strong regulations, from zoning to emission standards and even traffic regulations, we can work toward alleviating environmental injustices. However, as we continue to see at an increasing rate, pollution and other negative impacts on the environment have a long-lasting impact. Advocating for and taking steps to implement equitable solutions when it comes to housing, education and access to jobs is crucial.

Secondary Sources of Particle Pollution Affect Southeastern Michigan, Even After the Wildfire Smoke Clears

Michigan’s air quality has received a great amount of attention over the last several months. With wildfires still burning and winds bringing smoke into Southeastern Michigan, the region has had more than a dozen Ozone Action days. This increase in Ozone Action days has brought about increased attention to what poor air quality means for our health and what is causing the poor air quality. Smoke caused by increased temperatures and drought has caused wildfires in northern Michigan and Canada; the drought and increased temperatures are direct results of climate change. Climate change is caused by various factors, many of which are related to pollutants.

In this post we will further examine the air quality of Southeast Michigan and some of the factors behind it, particularly some of the region’s biggest polluters.

Of the seven counties in Southeast Michigan, three received an “F” grade for air quality from the American Lung Association in the 2023 State of the Air Report, and the other two that had enough information to be graded did not receive higher than a “C” grade.  These grades are based on the number of high ozone days in each county and the change in particle pollution from day-to-day and year-to-year.

Wayne, St. Clair and Macomb counties all received “F” grades for air quality in the 2023 State of the Air Report, with Wayne County have 11 “Orange Days” in 2022, St. Clair County having 10 and Macomb County having 16 “Orange Days.” According to the American Lung Association, when a county has an “Orange Day” that day is deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Additional colors in this ranking index include red for “unhealthy,” purple for “very unhealthy,” and maroon for “hazardous.” Benzie and Mason counties were the only two in Michigan to have red days.

Furthermore, according the American Lung Society’s State of the Air Report, the Detroit area was ranked the twelfth most polluted for year-round particle pollution.

Particle pollution is of serious concern because it negatively impacts individuals’ health, causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems and even premature death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are two sources of particle pollution, primary and secondary sources. Primary sources cause particle pollution on their own; wood stoves and forest fires are primary sources. Secondary sources let off gases that can form particles. These sources include power plants, factories, construction sites, vehicles and coal fires.

In Southeast Michigan there are several secondary particle pollution sources that have a negative impact on the area’s air quality. According to, a global non-profit organization that independently traces greenhouse gas emissions, some of the area’s highest emitters are an oil refinery, two steel plants, an airport and a powerplant. These emitters are:

Marathon Petroleum CO Detroit:

Ranked 378/80,188 Worldwide: for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Cleveland-Cliffs Dearborn Steel Plant

Ranked 296/80,188: for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Ranked 917/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Gerdau Monroe Steel Plant

Ranked 1,450/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

Monroe Michigan Power Plant (DTE)

Ranked 37/80,188 for Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2E)

These rankings and the acknowledgement of these assets on the Climate Trace map use data from 2021.

Other secondary sources that contribute to particle pollutants in the Metro-Detroit are the highways, the Ambassador Bridge and, most recently, Stellantis manufacturing plants in Warren and Detroit. Over the last several months, Stellantis has been fined over $500,000 for violating emission standards, according to Crains Detroit. Now, instead of trying to cut back on the emissions, Stellantis has submitted applications to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to raise emission levels of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter at the Warren Plant and to raise the amount of permitted particulate emissions at the Detroit Plant.

It remains unknown what the State of Michigan will do with Stellantis’ requests, but the State and the federal government both need to enforce stricter emission standards, both the benefit of the environment and the population. Higher accountability standards are needed, as are means to produce power and products in ways that do not create greenhouse gases.

Various Populations At-Risk By Continued Poor Air Quality in Michigan

Ozone action season is upon us here in Southeast Michigan; it began March 1 and continues through the end of September. Ozone Action Days are declared when hot temperatures are expected to combine with pollution, creating high amounts of ground-level ozone. Ground level ozone, especially in excess, can cause a human health threat, particularly to vulnerable population. These vulnerable populations include children, those 65 years of age or older, those with asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and those who are pregnant.

In 2022 in Southeast Michigan there were five Ozone Action Days, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, or days when the public is asked to do less strenuous activities and to reduce the ways in which they may contribute to air pollution. While we were certainly hoping for zero Ozone Action Days in 2023, we have already had 14, due in large part to the smoke that has drifted to Southeast Michigan from the Canadian and Northern Michigan wildfires. The most recent Ozone Action Day in Southeast Michigan was declared on July 5, 2023 and the first of the season was declared on April 15, 2023.

With nearly triple the number of Ozone Action Days in 2023 compared to 2022, concerns of air quality remain a constant worry throughout Michigan, as does the population’s health, particularly our most vulnerable populations’. Each year the American Lung Association releases a State of the Air Report that examines air quality at the county, state and national levels and how it impacts certain populations. For the 2023 State of the Air Report, The American Lung Association had data on the vulnerable populations of Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

As the data shows, children (those under the age of 18) are the category with the highest percentage of individuals at risk. Of the five counties with such data available from the American Lung Association, between 18 and 24 percent of the populations are children, with Wayne County having the highest percentage and Washtenaw County having the lowest percent. The category of those 65 years of age or above had the second highest percentage of individuals at risk, with between 15 (Washtenaw County) and 19 percent (St. Clair County) of the population being at risk of health complications from high ground ozone levels.

Of the diseases/conditions that can contribute to health problems during Ozone Action Days, adult asthma was the most common among the counties in Southeast Michigan (between 9-10 percent of the populations in the counties had adult asthma). Of the child population in the region, each of the five counties discussed in this post had 7 percent of that population with childhood asthma.

For COPD, less than 7 percent of the populations in Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties had the disease, except for Wayne County where the American Lung Association reported 11.5 percent of the population had COPD.  Heart disease, lung cancer and being pregnant also cause increased health risks during high ozone days, and of those three categories heart disease had the highest percentage of individuals who could be impacted.

While we can’t control how and when wildfire smoke will drift through our region there are actions we can take to help lower the amount of particles in the air, in general, and especially during Ozone Action Days.

According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, to help lower the amount of ground level ozone in the air we can:

  • Delay mowing your lawn until evening or the next day. Exhaust from a lawn mower and other gas-powered lawn and garden equipment help form ozone.
  • Drive less, telecommute, bike, or walk. This helps reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
  • Avoid refueling vehicles during daylight hours. Fumes released at the gas pump contribute to ozone formation.
  • Delay or combine errands. This will reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
  • Reduce electricity use.

With wildfires still burning in Canada, temperatures continuing to rise and air pollution still occurring in Southeast Michigan, it is likely the number of Ozone Action Days in Southeast Michigan will rise from 13. For some of our most vulnerable populations, summer days may be spent inside more often than expected, now and in the future. As noted in our previous post, the wildfires causing our most recent Ozone Action Days are related to climate change, which is creating hotter and dryer seasons.

And, while wildfires are impacting our air quality, so is pollution, which also is a driving factor in climate change. Two of the vulnerable populations we did not discuss in this post are those in poverty and certain minorities. We will further examine how these populations are impacted by not only air quality, but also pollution, in future posts as we have a larger conversation on environmental racism.

Michigan Air Quality Remains Poor, State at Risk of Increased Fires

As of 10 p.m. on Monday June 26, some places in Michigan had Air Quality Index (AQI) levels above 150, a level that is serious for even healthy people and can be dangerous for people with serious health conditions, according to This website tracks hyperlocal quality throughout the country on a daily basis; to view current information click here.

The poor air quality in Michigan, currently, is a result of massive fires in Canada, particularly Quebec, with smoke drifting down into Michigan.

But Michigan is also facing a substantial increase in wildfires of its own. And it could get worse.

The average number of fires per year in Michigan is 337, according the Michigan DNR, and halfway through 2023 the state is on pace to exceed that average with 238 fires having already been reported. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources there have been 205 total fires in Michigan’s lower peninsula in 2023, as of June 26, 2023, and 33 in the upper peninsula.

There are several reasons for fires, which include everything from lightening (279 since 2006) to fireworks (53 since 2006) to debris burning (1553 since 2006) and more. But one common factor amongst many fires is a dry environment that allows sparks to turn into flames and flames, in some cases, into raging fires. As of June 26 of this year, 2,532 acres of land had been burned by fires in Michigan; the average number of acres burned by fires in Michigan in June is 270. The Wilderness Fire Trail in Crawford County, which was started by a bonfire, burned more than 2,000 acres of land in June, according to the Associated Press. This wildfire contributed to the above average number of acres burned by fire in 2023. Michigan wildfires also drew attention in May, with more than three dozen being reported, according to Bridge Magazine. The cause? Drier than usual weather. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, May of 2023 was the ninth-driest May in Michigan since the federal government began keeping records in 1895.

With summer just beginning, we are nowhere near being out of fire season. According to the US Drought Monitor, created by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, much of Michigan is at least abnormally dry, as of June 22, 2023. The western portion of the Upper Peninsula and about a third of the Lower Peninsula (the thumb and the top of the “mitten”) have been deemed “abnormally dry,” and nearly all the remaining portion of the “mitten” (including Wayne County) have been deemed “moderately dry.” There is also an area in mid-Michigan that has been deemed to be in a severe drought; the eastern portion of the Lower Peninsula has no drought conditions.

With drier conditions being a factor in increased fires across the state of Michigan, we must also touch on what is behind the drier conditions. Climate change, driven by increased emissions, pollution and more, can be dubbed as the main culprit behind increased drought conditions in certain areas (and increased drought in other areas, but that is for another day).

In Michigan, average temperatures have already risen 2.5 degrees, with summers being hotter and heatwaves being stronger. Fast forward to 2100, summers in Isle Royale National Park, for example, are expected to be 11 degrees hotter, according to

The chart below shows just how Michigan’s annual daily temperatures have changed since 1900 and how they are expected to change up to 2100, depending on the amount of emissions we continue to pump into the environment (Southeast Michigan has several high emission emitters, as will be discussed in detail in a future post). The observed data is through 2020 and shows that Michigan’s average temperature has increased by nearly 3 degrees (Fahrenheit) over time. According to the data set from The Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth System Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), even with lower emissions temperatures are expected to increase in Michigan by a minimum of 3 degrees through 2100. That number could increase to at least 12 degrees though if the emissions we produce increase.

With climate change having a direct impact on our environment, it is also having a direct impact on our lives. We know drought can be catastrophic to crops, our food systems and the economy and we know fires cause destruction. It should also be known that fires also have a direct impact on air quality, which affects the lives of all of us.

Next week we will dig into how Michigan’s air quality ranks and how the fires in Michigan, and beyond, have making it much worse in recent weeks.