Pressures to Raise Wages in Michigan Continue

Amidst the COVID pandemic, there are strong pressures to raise wages as government and businesses seek to draw back workers, who have stayed home. We see this in actions on prevailing wages and on minimum wages. Just last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reinstated the prevailing wage for contractors working on State of Michigan projects. The prevailing wage is the average wage rate paid to groups of who do similar jobs/occupations; these wages are typically driven by union contracts. The purpose of a prevailing wage is to ensure companies that bid on government contracts don’t provide a low bid to the detriment of their employees. The new prevailing wage policy, which was originally repealed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2018, will impact only state contracts and projects. Federal projects are already subject to prevailing wage policies and local governments must implement their own policies to ensure fair wages are met.

In Michigan, the prevailing wage policy impacts occupations ranging from asbestos and lead abatement laborers to steel work engineers to roofers, and beyond. A list of occupations and their associated prevailing wages by county in Michigan in 2018 can be found here.

For reference on the difference of a prevailing wage by county, a bricklayer working on a state project in 2018 would have made the below rate, at a minimum:

  • Livingston County: $54.12
  • Macomb County: $52.43
  • Monroe County: $52.43
  • Oakland County: $52.43
  • St. Clair County: $52.34
  • Washtenaw County: $54.12
  • Wayne County: $52.43

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for a brick mason in 2020 was $28.09. Of course, this mean wage accounts for every state in the country, where minimum and living wages vary, along with the cost of living.

In Michigan, the minimum wage is $9.65 an hour and the living wage for one adult with no children is $13.63. And, while Whitmer’s prevailing wage policy will impact state contracts, an increased minimum wage, state or nation-wide, would allow for greater economic stability for a large portion of the population and give way to economic growth.

An increase to the minimum wage requires policy changes, and inherent political tug-of-wars. And, while such actions should still be pursued and hopefully implemented, amidst the political turmoil that will likely occur during these discussions, businesses and local governments can implement their own wage policies. In Michigan, Oakland County and Oak Park both have policies where the minimum wage for their organizations is $15 an hour. Ann Arbor has a living wage policy for its employees and in its contracting ordinance, meaning the City must extend contracts to companies that pay their employees a living wage, at minimum. The Mayor of Jackson also just introduced an ordinance for a $15.68 an hour minimum wage rate for City employees and any contractor, vendor or grantee of City funds. The ordinance also proposes a $13.32 an hour minimum wage rate for employers that provide health care to employees. 

The 2021 living wages for Southeastern Michigan, by county are:

  • Livingston County: $13.91
  • Macomb County: $13.78
  • Monroe County: $13.67
  • Oakland County: $13.78
  • St. Clair County: $13.78
  • Washtenaw County: $15.62
  • Wayne County: $13.78

The above policies show how the State of Michigan and some local municipalities are making progress toward paying employees a true living wage and better aligning wages with salaries. However, the work must continue to ensure that all those employed and seeking employment earn wages that allow them to live a life above the poverty rate, a life in a city, state and country where disparities continue to shrink.

Public Corruption Continues to Grow in Southeastern Michigan

Metro-Detroit is not unfamiliar with public corruption. At least once a year, but usually more often than that, a public corruption cases surfaces in Southeastern Michigan that involves a public official. Recent headlines have been focused on several public officials, including four from the Detroit City Council, three from the Detroit Police Department and three from Macomb County. These charges have surfaced over the last year or so, and have only driven the total number of public corruption cases that can be accounted for in the last four years. In total, there have been at least 32 public corruption charges since 2016 in Southeastern Michigan that involve either an elected official or a public employee. When including public contractors that number rises to about 40.

Most recently, investigations involve Detroit City Councilmembers Andre Spivey, Janee Ayers and Scott Benson. Last week, Andre Spivey pled guilty to federal bribery charges and admitted he and an aide received almost $36,000 in bribes. This case involving Spivey is connected to a larger investigation related to its towing operations. Ayers and Benson have not been charged with any crimes, however their homes have been raided in connection with this broad FBI investigation, according to news reports. The chief of staffs for Ayers and Benson are also included in this investigation but have not been charged. Since Ayers, Benson and their chief of staffs have not been charged with any crimes they were not included in the total number of regional corruption cases since 2016.

In addition to members of the Detroit City Council being investigated for possible crimes related to public corruption tied to City towing policies, so are three members of the Detroit Police Department. According to news reports from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, at least three members of the Detroit Police Department are suspected of accepting bribes from towing industry figures; no charges have been filed so these unnamed individuals were also not included in the regional public figure count.

In addition,  former Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland pled guilty to misconduct in office in May of 2021, and he resigned from City Council following the plea. Leland’s guilty plea stemmed from him being indicted on federal bribery charges and a felony misconduct in office charge for accepting $15,000 in cash and free car repairs in exchange for his vote on a land deal, according to the FBI. Leland admitted to accepting the cash when he pled guilty.

As corruption charges continue to surface in Detroit, public information from the FBI, news sources and local court documents shows that there have been at least 15 public corruption cases involving Detroit councilmembers or Detroit staffers; this number does not include contractors or business figures who have been involved in these corruption cases. In Wayne County (excluding Detroit), since 2016, there have been four public corruption charges. Wayne County, including Detroit, has the highest number of public corruption charges in the region, and the state, followed by Macomb County.

In Macomb County, the recent names making headlines for alleged public corruption are former Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Smith, former Macomb County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Ben Liston and suspended Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Derek Miller. Miller recently asked for the misconduct in office and conspiracy to commit a legal in an illegal manner charges against him to be dropped. This request came because, according to news reports, Miller’s attorney claims there was no criminal intent with his interaction related to the larger case of alleged misuse of forfeiture funds by Smith. The charges still currently stand against Miller though, and Liston pled guilty to embezzlement charges for improper use of forfeiture funds in September of 2021. With this plea he is required to testify against Smith if requested to do so.

As for Smith, he pled guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge for covering up theft from his campaign fund. While he pled guilting to this federal corruption charge in January of 2021, he has yet to be sentenced, in part because of his ongoing public corruption case with the State Attorney General’s Office. At the state level, Smith has been charged with five counts of embezzlement by a public official, one count conducting a federal enterprise, official misconduct in office, tampering with evidence in a civil proceeding, accessory after the fact to embezzlement by a public official and one count conspiracy to commit forgery, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. Smith’s felony charges from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office are all in relation to alleged misuse of forfeiture funds. The initial charges against Smith were the state charges and occurred in March of 2020, and the federal charges came in September of 2020.

Since 2016 there have been 10 public officials from Macomb County, either the County organization itself or a municipality within its boundaries, who have been charged with alleged public corruption crimes. There are also cases tied to contractors and overall public corruption cases in Macomb County, that were not included in these counts. Many of the cases are related the Rizzo Environmental Services federal case that entangled elected officials, public employees and business figures who owned the business and worked with it.

No other county in the region or the state has had as many corruption cases the as Wayne and Macomb counties. Since 2016 there has been two public corruption cases in Oakland County and one in St. Clair County; no other county in the region has had any cases come to light.

Corruption cases have long riddled the Metro-Detroit region and in an upcoming post we will detail the ones that have been brought to the public eye since 2016. With more likely in the works, it is important to note that strong local journalism, citizen involvement in local government and an understanding of who is being elected can help reduce corruption cases. Of course, the fix is much more complicated than that, and this too will be explored at a later date.

Michigan’s Congressional Districts to Change Soon

The new Congressional district maps for Michigan have not been finalized, but drafts are in the works, and districts are certain to change.

First off, the process in which Congressional and State House and State Senate districts are drawn has changed. Prior to 2018, the Michigan State Legislature redrew districts using population and demographic data from the US Census Bureau. This process was inherently political and lead to gerrymandered districts, as we highlighted in one of our earliest posts.

Come 2018, a change was mandated when Michigan voters approved the creation of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. This Commission, which has been regularly meeting and taking public input over the last several months, is led by a bi-partisan citizen group. The MICRC is composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents.

Another change regarding the mapping of Congressional districts was then announced in 2020—Michigan would lose a seat in the US House Representatives-dropping from 14 to 13—due to a shift in population. This is the fifth time in a row Michigan has lost a Congressional seat. This is because that other states have gained substantially more population than Michigan.

 In addition to Michigan losing a Congressional seat so did California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. The states that gained a single seat are: Colorado, Oregon, Montana, North Carolina and Florida. Texas gained two Congressional seats.

The map below shows the percent change in population between 2010 and 2020, according to the Census Bureau. And, while the map doesn’t highlight a significant population loss for Michigan it does show how other areas throughout the country are experiencing more rapid population growth while we remain increased only slightly.

Current MICRC proposals that affect Southeastern Michigan include Oakland County being included in five Congressional districts, as opposed to the four it is currently included in, Wayne County in three or four districts, as opposed to the two it is currently located in, and Macomb County being stretched amongst three or four districts, as opposed to the two it is currently in. All of these are still proposed, and non-finalized, maps of course. But this means shakeups for current members of Michigan’s Congressional Delegation. For example, a proposed map shows that current Congressman Andy Levin and current Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence could be living in the same district. Another proposed shift is for the 10th District, which could include parts of Oakland, Macomb and Genesee counties. The current Congress members who represent parts of that new proposed district are Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township). If that proposal were to move forward those current members of Congress could all be vying against each other in the election process.


According to the criteria approved by voters when they approved the MICRC, new district maps must:
·        Comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act and be of equal population;
·        Be geographically contiguous;
·        Reflect the state’s diverse population and communities of interest;
·        Not provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party;
·        Not favor or disfavor an incumbent;
·        Respect county/municipal borders;
·        Be reasonably compact.
 
While Michigan’s population has changed minimally, there still have been population shifts internally, which will also impact the new Congressional districts.
For example, St. Clair County lost 1.6 percent of its population and Wayne County lost 1.5 percent of its population between 2010 and 2020, while Washtenaw County experienced about an 8 percent population increase, and Livingston County experienced about a 7.5 percent population increase. While Congressional seats don’t include just one county, understanding where the State’s population has shifted does help shed light on how the districts may shift.

The final Congressional District maps will go into play for the 2022 election. Three maps for final consideration must be chosen by the MICRC on Oct. 1, 2021. To leave a comment on the proposed maps or the process visit here.

Fatal Injury Related Deaths Continue to Increase in Southeastern Michigan

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the total number of fatal injury related deaths have, generally, continued to increase since 2000. In 2000 there were 5,263 total fatal injury related deaths and in 2019 that number increased to 8,059. The number of fatal injury related deaths report in 2019 was a slight decrease from the total reported in 2017 and 2018, but overall the total numbers have increased by about 3,000 since 2000. When digging into the most recent data at the local level, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that the City of Detroit had the highest rate per 100,000 people of all fatal injury related deaths at 142.2; St. Clair County had the second highest rate at 104.9.

Fatal injury related deaths account for several different types of death, including general accidents, poisonings, suffocations, falls and injuries related to guns. Deaths from car crashes, slips, choking, drowning, machinery and other uncontrollable situations are deemed accidental. According to the data, Detroit had the highest rater per 100,000 people of all accident related deaths at 89.9 in 2019.
Poisoning deaths are also considered a fatal injury related death and Detroit again had the highest rate per 100,000 people for this type of death at 56.2; Wayne County had the second highest rate at 43.1.
Suffocation deaths had the lowest rates in the region, with Monroe and St. Clair counties not even reporting enough data for a rate to be determined.  Detroit’s suffocation death rate was 3.9 per 100,000 people and Wayne County’s rate was 3.

While Livingston County had amongst the lowest accidental death rates for the other types already discussed, it had the highest fatal fall related death rates in the region in 2019 at 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people followed by Macomb County with 15.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
St. Clair County had the highest rate of fatal transport deaths at 17 per 100,000 people followed by Detroit at 14.2. A transport accident related death is any death that happens during road, rail, marine and/or air transport. These type of deaths can involve machines and pedestrians.
Overall, aside from all accident related deaths, poisoning deaths had the highest rates in 2019 in Southeastern Michigan. Poisoning is one of the top three leading causes of preventable injury-related death. The other top two preventable injury-related deaths are falls and car accidents, which would be included in transport deaths.

Flooding Grows More Common in Southeastern Michigan

Flooding in Southeastern Michigan continues to grow more common as weather patterns shift. In the summer of 2021 alone there have been at least three major flooding events, leaving hundreds of people with waterlogged basements, furniture and more. While the amount of rain certainly has an impact on the frequency of flooding, so does aging water infrastructure and various other household and neighborhood factors.

According to the June 2021 report “Household Flooding in Detroit” by Healthy Urban Waters, in partnership with the Wayne State Center for Urban Studies and others, 43 percent of 4,667 Detroit households surveyed between 2012-2020 reported household flooding. Furthermore, in an online Detroit Office of Sustainability survey published in 2018, 13 percent of those survey reported they experienced flooding very often; 23 percent reported they experienced flooding somewhat often and 32 percent reported they experienced it occasionally. Additionally, a cross-sectional study published in 2016 of 164 homes in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood indicated that 64 percent of homes experienced at least one flooding event in during that, with many experiencing three or four events, according to the report.

While we have the data on Detroit flooding, recent anecdotal tales tell us how cities throughout Southeastern Michigan—the Grosse Pointes, Dearborn and more—also continue to be affected by the surge of rain during storm events. Old infrastructure certainly impacts how a rain event affects a community, but so do other factors, such as the age of a home and if it is a rental versus being an owner-occupied unit.

According to the “Household Flooding in Detroit” study, Detroit renters were 1.7 times more likely to report household flooding than homeowners. In a different study, the 2021 Detroit Citizen Survey, individuals were provided a list of home problems and asked to identify which ones apply to their house or apartment. There were 570 respondents to this question and of those a total of 1,111 problems were recorded; four of the five top problems (mentioned by 83% of householders) concerned water in the home (from plumbing to flooding).

The first map above shows the hot and cold spots of flooding in Detroit using the Getis-Ord Gi* statistic. Red dots represent “hot” spots of statistically significant clusters of homes that have experienced flooding. Purple dots represent clusters of homes that have not report flooding. The map reflects responses from a sample of 4,667 Detroit households who participated in the Center for Urban Studies’ Home Safety Assessment survey between 2012 and 2020. Among these households, 2,546 (42.75%) reported household flooding. As shown in the first map, the “hot” spots for household flooding in the City are located in clusters in the north end of the City, in the Jefferson Chalmers area near the river and Grosse Pointe Park, the East Village/Indian Village areas and in the Warrendale/Rosedale Park/Michigan Marin areas. Also note, some of these “hot” spot flooding areas in Detroit border other areas that have experienced flooding during recent rain storms, such as Dearborn and Grosse Pointe Park.

The second map shows 2015 data of the percent of renters, by Census tract, in Detroit. Those Census tracts with “hot” flooding spots also have at least 30 percent of the population renting and data shows that neighborhoods with a larger proportion of renters (compared to owners) and homes built before 1939 are more likely to experience household flooding. According to the Census Bureau, about 33 percent of the City’s housing stock was built before 1939.

The flooding study also found that primarily Black communities were found to be at high risk for household flooding; according to the Census Bureau, 78 percent of Detroit’s population is Black.

So, while we know that flooding affects some communities in Southeastern Michigan more than others and that the risk for the region will only increase as the effects of climate change grow, there actions that can be taken to mitigate flood damage. Updating water and sewer infrastructure to increase its reliability is a high, yet expensive, priority to help decrease the risk of in-home flood events for communities at-large. Investment in green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, is another option as is identifying parts of communities most prone to flooding and further investigating the specifics behind it. But again, these require time and money and municipalities regularly struggle to maintain their infrastructure, let alone allow for major upgrades.

Infrastructure investment is necessary, but so are larger actions to help slow the affects of climate change.

Majority of Southeastern Michigan Counties Lose Non-Hispanic White Population

Preliminary data from the 2020 Decennial Census was recently released, including population and race and ethnicity data. Below we explore the racial makeup of each county in Southeastern Michigan according to the 2020 Census and how those numbers changed between 2010 and 2020. Overall, the charts below show that the Non-Hispanic white population makes up the highest percentage of each county’s population in the region. However, five of the seven counties lost a percentage of that population (Washtenaw and Livingston counties gained) yet gained other racial and ethnic populations.

Overall, Monroe County had the highest percentage of a certain population gain between 2010 and 2020 for any racial or ethnic background at 528 percent for the “Non-Hispanic Other” designation by the 2020 Census. This racial/ethnic group also had the highest percentage gain for each county in the region. Other data points to note are how St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties all lost a percentage of their black populations while the other four counties in the region (Livingston, Macomb, Monroe and Oakland counties) all gained a percentage of that population between 2010 and 2020. Macomb County had the highest percentage increase in its black population between 2010 and 2020 percent at 50 percent, followed by Livingston County with a 44 percent increase and Monroe County with a 28 percent increase.

Another racial group each county in Southeastern Michigan gained was the Asian population between 2010 and 2020. Oakland County gained the highest percentage at 56 percent, followed by Macomb County which experienced a 53 percent increase in its Asian population between 2010 and 2020, according to the 2020 Census.

Each pie chart below shows what the 2020  racial makeup of each county in Southeastern Michigan was, according to the 2020 Census. As noted, the Non-Hispanic white population made up the highest percentage of each county’s population in the region, however some counties in the region were, and remain to be, more diverse than others. Wayne County had the highest percentage of a black population, despite a population loss of that racial group between 2010 and 2020, at 37 percent. As mentioned, Macomb County had the highest percentage increase in its black population between 2010 and 2020 percent at 50 percent, followed by Livingston County with a 44 percent increase and Monroe County with a 28 percent increase. Of those counties, the percentage of black residents in Macomb County in 2020 was 12 percent; in Livingston County that percentage was 1 percent and in Monroe County that percentage was 3 percent.

Conversely, Livingston County had the highest percentage of the Non-Hispanic white population at 91 percent, in which there was a 2.5 percent population increase of between 2010 and 2020.

So, overall while some of these counties did experience notable gains in certain populations, such as the black and Non-Hispanic “other” and “multi” populations, the overall percentage some racial ethnic groups gained still did not bring them even close to making up the majority of a county’s overall population group.

As 2020 Census data continues to become more available, we will further explore what population changes have occurred over the last 10 years in Southeastern Michigan. We do know, as shown above, that there have been overall population gains and losses in each county and racial and ethnic population gains and losses. Being able to dig deeper into where these gains and losses occurred at the municipal and Census tract level will further help us understand how the region is changing.

Southeastern Michigan COVID Update: August 2021

The era of COVID continues, especially as we again are witnessing a case surge due to the Delta-variant. In Michigan, the level of transmission is now considered substantial, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC states there are now 71 counties that are places of “substantial” or “high” transmission: Livingston, Monroe, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne are included in this list. A county is considered to have a substantial transmission rate if there are 50-99 cases per week per 100,000 people and/or a test positivity between 8  and 9.9 percent; all counties in Southeastern Michigan are considered substantial by the CDC, except St. Clair County. A county is considered to have a high transmission rate if there are 100 new cases per week per 100,000 residents, and/or there is a positive test rate of 10 percent or higher. Those Michigan counties that have a high transmission rate are Alpena, Branch, Charlevoix, Huron, Iosco, Kalkaska and Montmorency counties, according to the CDC.

Michigan reported 910,500 total confirmed COVID cases as of Aug. 6, 2021. Of that total 3,962 are confirmed new COVID cases from August 3,4 and 5, 2021 (the State no longer reports case numbers daily).

In Chart 1 we drill down into the number of confirmed COVID cases for Southeastern Michigan, by county and for the City of Detroit; all numbers are represented of a five-day rolling average. The five-day rolling average for the total number of COVID cases (Chart 1) reflects a smoother curve and adjusts for fluctuations in testing and/or the quality of reporting or failure to report. This chart also shows that, while the total number of COVID cases has grown overall since March 2020, there have certainly been surges. We also see that Oakland and Wayne counties continue to have the highest total number of COVID cases. Oakland County had the highest number of confirmed COVID cases at 104,354, followed by Wayne County with 104,090 new cases as of August 4, 2021. The City of Detroit had 52,394 confirmed cases.

Charts 2 and 3 provide a closer look at the number of new COVID cases over time. In Chart 2 we are reminded of the COVID case surges in fall/winter of 2020 and again in spring of 2021. However, as Chart 3 shows with a zoomed in look at the last month. New COVID case numbers are again on the rise. Oakland County had the highest number of new confirmed COVID cases on August 4, 2021 with 100, followed by Wayne County with 82 new cases and Macomb County with 56 new confirmed cases.

The daily data highlighted in these posts is from Michigan.gov/coronavirus, where data is updated daily at 3 p.m. Historical data were supplied from covidtracking.com, which republishes COVID data from the State. Additionally, the case totals do not reflect the number of people who have recovered, just those who have been infected. In June of 2020 the State changed how it reports its data on the website, making data more accurate in the long-term but more complicated to track as well. The State regularly updates older data, and as we continue to publish regular updates on COVID the State’s changes to past data many not always be reflected in our posts. The data published in this post is accurate for the day we it was received and published though.

The chart below (Chart 4) shows that Macomb County had the highest number of COVID confirmed cases per capita. According to the data released on August 6, 2021 by the State of Michigan, Macomb County had 111,540 COVID cases per million people. St. Clair County had the second highest number of confirmed cases per million people at 95,339. Washtenaw County had the lowest per capita rate at 71,278 confirmed COVID cases per million people.

While the current surge of COVID cases may not numerically appear to be as troubling as what we experienced in the spring and fall, the Delta variant is highly transmissible and a cause for both caution and concern, especially for the unvaccinated. As of last week the variant was confirmed in 40 different Michigan counties.

Signs Point Toward Economic Recovery in Southeastern Michigan

In June of 2021 the unemployment rate for the State of Michigan remained stable, and lower than a year ago, while the rate for the City of Detroit continued to decline through May of 2021. The State of Michigan reported an unemployment rate of 5 in June, which is the same as its May and April rates. Since April of 2020 the State’s unemployment rate has declined from 23.6 to 5.  For the City of Detroit, the unemployment rate for May of 2021 was 8.4, which is 1.8 points lower than the April unemployment rate and 31 points lower than the March 2020 rate, which is the highest rate in at least the last two years.

The chart above shows how unemployment rates have greatly declined over the last year and are remaining both stable and low. The chart below reflects a similar message, but highlights just how high unemployment rates were throughout Southeastern Michigan during the pandemic. In May of 2020, Wayne County had the highest unemployment rate at 27.4 percent. Three counties in the region had unemployment rates above 25 percent; Macomb and St. Clair counties had unemployment rates of 26.6 percent and 26.8 percent, respectively.

Between May of 2020 and May of 2021 St. Clair County had the largest difference in unemployment rates at 22.5 percent; in May of 2020 St. Clair County’s unemployment rate was 26.8 percent and in May of 2021 it was 4.3 percent. Washtenaw County had the smallest difference in unemployment rates in that time frame at 9 percent; Washtenaw County had a 13.7 percent unemployment rate in May of 2020 and a 4.7 unemployment rate in May of 2021.

In May of 2021 Livingston County had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.4 percent while Monroe County had the highest at 6.7 percent.

The number of state unemployment claims directly reflect the unemployment rates regionally and statewide. These claims, also referred to as insured unemployment, are the number of people who have already filed an initial claim and who have experienced a week of unemployment and then filed a continued claim to claim benefits for that week of unemployment. Continued claims data are based on the week of unemployment, not the week when the initial claim was filed, according to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments.

The chart below shows a spike in April and May of 2020, when COVID restrictions tightened throughout the State. Since then though there has been a steady decline in the number of continued claims. The largest declines occurred between May and June of 2020 and September and November of 2020. Although the recent overall trend has been a decline in claims, there was a slight increase in the middle of April and into early May of 2021, but even then, those numbers are among the lowest reported since January of 2020.  However, as July 3, 2021 there were 76,786 continued unemployment claims, the lowest number reported since January of 2020.

Although unemployment numbers have been on the decline, there has been a recent increase in the number of small business closures, according to the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker. This source uses credit card transaction data from 500,000 small businesses, Opportunity Insights estimates closures from the number of small businesses not having at least one transaction in the previous three days. The data cover many industries, including healthcare services, leisure and hospitality, and retail and transportation. The data source does say it has less coverage in manufacturing, construction, and finance.

According to the data, 41 percent of small businesses closed as of July 18, 2021. This number was an increase from the 32 percent of small business that were estimated to be closed on June 18, 2021. 

The data shows that although small business closures at not as prevalent as at the beginning of the pandemic they are still closer to the high mark, rather than the low mark. There were significant drops in small business closures, such as in June and July of last year and those decreases could be related to the release of government aide at that time and a loosening of COVID restrictions.

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 consumption of services continues to remain steady, but not back to pre-COVID levels. On May 1, 2021 it was estimated that there was $8,263 billion in consumption of services, a continued increase in consumption dollars but not yet at pre-pandemic levels.

The expenditures on durable and non-durable goods are however now above pre-COVID levels with the amount spent on durable goods being $3,338 billion as of May 1, 2021 and the amount spent on non-durable goods being $2,294 billion.

According to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the average price of single-family dwellings sold in Metro Detroit was $147,900 in April of 2021; this was $1,450 higher than the average family dwelling price in March. The April 2021 price was an increase of $14,050 from April of 2020 and $53,030 from April of 2014. Certainly, home prices have continued to increase year-after-year but the recent average price of single-family dwellings sold in the Metro-Detroit area has increased at a higher rate than in previous years. This is highlighted by the fact that the $14,050 increase in sale prices since 2020 is 25 percent of the overall increase in home prices since 2014 ($53,030).  

Attention on Mental Health in Michigan Growing, But More Focus Needed

The attention on mental health continues to grow, but data for Michigan shows that the State is lacking in several aspects. First off, Michigan only has five inpatient, state operated psychiatric hospitals. Furthermore, access to mental health care is lacking for many in the state. While each Michigan county has a Community Mental Health authority, board or facility the number of individuals who could benefit from their help outnumber the amount of time and programs offered through these organizations. Of course there are also private mental health care providers to assist with mental health disorders, but as research shows that availability is also lacking.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, there are 235 Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas in Michigan, ranking it third in the nation with the highest number of such shortage areas. To move out of such a shortage area rank and designation the state needs a 23.5 percent increase in psychiatric help. The percent of need met is computed by dividing the number of psychiatrists available to serve the population of the area, group, or facility by the number of psychiatrists that would be necessary to eliminate the Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Area (based on a ratio of 30,000 to 1). More plainly speaking, 207 practitioners are needed to remove that designation; this is the number of additional psychiatrists needed to achieve a population-to-psychiatrist ratio of 30,000 to 1.

Such a shortage can lead to individuals utilizing their primary care physicians as their mental health doctor, or not seeing one at all. According to the “Understanding the expanding role of primary care physicians (PCPs) to primary psychiatric care physicians (PPCPs)” study, a third of primary care physicians’ patients are mental health patients. Furthermore, according to research from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, the number of primary care physicians accessible to residents varies greatly by county in Michigan. Regionally, Washtenaw County had the highest rate of primary care physicians accessible to residents at 167 per 100,000 in 2015; Oakland County was the only other county in Southeastern Michigan with a rate above 100 at 150. Livingston County had the lowest rate of accessible primary care physicians at 46 per 100,000 residents. 

While there is clearly a shortage in the number of psychiatrists needed to assist those with mental disorders there are other barriers as well. For example, access to health care also plays a role in the help an individual can receive. According to 2019 Census data, 6.4 percent of Wayne County  residents had no health care coverage; the highest in the region. Monroe County had the lowest percentage of residents in the region without access to healthcare coverage at 4.1 percent. 

Access to mental health programs and trained professionals can be life or death for some. This is why we not only need additional funding for mental health care in Michigan, and the country, but also a revamped look at mental health in general. Those with untreated, and even treated, mental health disorders can end up in the criminal justice system, living on the streets or in homeless shelters, suffering from substance use disorders or experiencing other day-to-day life difficulties due to lack of consistent access to care. An overhaul in the system is needed, and to further prove this point we will dig further into some of the worst case scenarios lack of access to mental health care can lead to.

Great Lakes Levels Decline in 2021

A State of Emergency was declared for Wayne County due to flooding from Friday’s storm, I94 is still cannot be traversed in some places, and hundreds of residents in Southeastern Michigan will be dealing with flood damage to their homes for weeks–even months–to come. But, despite the onslaught of heavy rain, the Great Lakes levels remain lower than last year. 

How can this be? 


For perspective, one inch of water on Lakes Michigan and Huron is composed of 800 billion gallons of water. The 22 inches of water that has left Lake Michigan and Lake Huron over the last year represents 17.6 trillion gallons of water. It is total precipitation–rain and snowfall–that impacts water levels. Less precipitation and warmer days lead to lower lake levels. To put it in a different way, heavy snowfalls with low temperatures lead to greater ice coverage, causing less amounts of water to evaporate in the Great Lakes basin, and therefore leading to higher water levels. Evaporation levels are the highest when the temperature difference between the water and the air is high, and when the water is warmer than the air.

A State of Emergency was declared for Wayne County due to flooding from Friday’s storm, I94 is still cannot be traversed in some places, and hundreds of residents in Southeastern Michigan will be dealing with flood damage to their homes for weeks–even months–to come. But, despite the onslaught of heavy rain, the Great Lakes levels remain lower than last year. 

How can this be? 
For perspective, one inch of water on Lakes Michigan and Huron is composed of 800 billion gallons of water. The 22 inches of water that has left Lake Michigan and Lake Huron over the last year represents 17.6 trillion gallons of water. It is total precipitation–rain and snowfall–that impacts water levels. Less precipitation and warmer days lead to lower lake levels. To put it in a different way, heavy snowfalls with low temperatures lead to greater ice coverage, causing less amounts of water to evaporate in the Great Lakes basin, and therefore leading to higher water levels. Evaporation levels are the highest when the temperature difference between the water and the air is high, and when the water is warmer than the air.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, average lake levels for the Great Lakes Basin  for 2021 are much lower than what they averaged in 2020 during the month of June. Forecasted June 25, 2021 data from the US Army Corps of Engineers shows that the Lakes Michigan-Huron system is 22 inches below where it was on June 25 of 2020; the water level in Lake Ontario is 21 inches lower than where it was this time last year. Lake Superior, the largest and deepest lake in the Great Lakes, has water levels 7 inches below where it was in June of 2020. 

Less snowfall and warmer days meant the Great Lakes did not rise as high as they typically do in the spring. However, even though lake levels are lower than what they have been in recent years, they remain much higher than the long-term averages, with the exception of Lake Ontario. Lakes Michigan-Huron, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair are all 13 or more inches higher than long-term averages. Lakes-Michigan-Huron are 13 inches higher than the long-term average while Lake St. Clair is 16 inches higher and Lake Erie is 14 inches higher. Lake Superior is 4 inches higher than the long-term June average, and Lake Ontario is 14 inches lower than the long-term June average. Of course, looking at how much higher current levels are than the lowest record monthly mean paints another picture.  Lakes Michigan-Huron, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair are all 45-50 inches higher than the lowest record average in June. 

The shifts in weather patterns locally and beyond certainly mean changes for the long-term for what we may come to expect. Despite Great Lakes levels being low this year, on average, they remain higher than long-term averages. But, if we continue to have milder winters and hotter summers, then that will have the opposite effect on our Great Lakes–a loss of one of our greatest natural resources.