5 Very Real Reasons Many Detroit Residents Aren’t Feeling The City’s Comeback

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Construction workers on a Detroit road (Daily Detroit file photo)

Detroit’s resurgence is an incredible story. Hopefully, we can make sure everyone plays a part in it.

There has been momentous progress, especially in the decade since the Superbowl came to town, but outside of signature developments and some truly impressive projects, most of the city hasn’t felt the comeback.

A recent J.P. Morgan Chase study outlined the challenges, but frankly, it’s TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) for most folks. So we dived in and brought out the highlights.

Here are five facts you should know the next time you’re wondering why many Detroiters aren’t feeling the comeback. Here’s a clue: It all starts with a job.

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1. Almost half of Detroit residents have not had any work in the last 12 months

It may seem hard to believe, but almost half of Detroiters aged 16-64 (47%) have not had any employment in the last twelve months. That’s 168,000 people not working. To give you an idea, Detroit would need almost 13 more companies the size of Quicken Loans (~13,000 employees) to fill that gap.

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2. There are only 3.7 jobs for every 10 Detroit residents in the city

…and most of those jobs located in the city, about 3 of 4 are held by suburbanites. By contrast, comparable sized cities like Cleveland and Atlanta have 11.8 jobs and 18.3 jobs per resident, respectively.

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3. Many entry level jobs are in the suburbs, and owning a car is insanely expensive in Detroit

Car insurance here is among the highest in the nation, so owning a car in the city is very expensive. Mix that with the history of a lack of investment and cooperation when it comes to mass transit has made it very difficult for poorer residents to even get to a job when they land one. 48 percent of Detroit residents live 10 or more miles from their job.

Image of a blocked off slide at Spain Elementary in Detroit.

4. Detroit’s education system is a disaster

The education system in Detroit (DPS and charters both have low marks) is producing a reported 47% functional illiteracy rate in the city, and when it comes to Detroit residents, only 13% have a Bachelor’s degree. So most can’t even qualify for many higher paying jobs. Adult literacy programs in the city are consistently seeing customers that will need 12 to 36 months of education to get their GED (High school diploma equivalent) to get people to ninth grade levels (enough for an entry level job) or tenth (enough for community college).

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5. A significant percentage of working Detroiters are still in poverty

18.5% of employed Detroiters still lived below the poverty line, and 31% of that group of working poor Detroiters worked full time, which is a frustrating situation to be in.

Waxing a little poetic here, if you think about the noise created around the recent investments in downtown in midtown, they’re only a drop in the bucket needed to get Detroiters back to work.

And that’s what Detroiters really need. Jobs.

The numbers aren’t insurmountable at all (neighboring Oakland County added 97,000 jobs since 2010, according to their information), but it’ll take work on multiple fronts to ensure there is opportunity for all of Detroit. There are programs – like the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation and Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, as well as many other initiatives – that are starting to make a dent, but there’s a long road ahead.

But if we don’t do this trinity of work that is improving mass transit, education, and creating jobs, we will be permanently on a path to two Detroits. And that’s not the kind of resurgence anybody wants.

3 comments
  • I am retired but I still work part time,have two college degrees, and live comfortably. But I too do not feel Detroit’s comeback, not at all. My block and neighborhood in NED(Northeast Detroit,48212,City Council District 3) looks worse than ever, as bad or worse than a bombed out city in the Middle East, or Europe and Japan after WWII. For heaven’s sake, why are dangerous,abandoned,open-to-tresspass DLBA properties needing demolition in 2007 still standing on my well traveled block(pedestrians including children,and autos)?? Now for the first time ever in my long long lifetime in Detroit, I also have a vacant,abandoned, recently foreclosed house next door!! I hate that. I also hate that the place also caught fire last July(when it was still occupied) from an abandoned,dangerous,open-to-tresspass DLBA house next to it & waiting for demo for too long .Damn the DLBA properties on my block & in my neighborhood!!Too many neighborhoods in NED(Northeast Detroit)from I-75 to Mound are extreme eyesores. It doesn’t have to be that way. Remaining homeowners on streets such as Ryan, Shields,Conant,etc.. and long-time businesses on streets such as E.McNichols,E.Davison,Conant,Mound,etc..are sick and tired of the blight. Detroit lost 250,000 residents from 2000-2010, more than ever for one decade in city’s 300 year history. Given the population decline in NED 48212 etc.., expect a loss of another 250,000 in 2020. That is not growth. That is not a Detroit comeback. Detroit is still America’s incredible shrinking city.

  • I’m a 41 year old male and I grew up in Detroit in one of the nicer neighborhoods of the city, Boston Edison. It’s held on well and a lot of good activity is taking place there. As an adult, I purchased two homes in the same neighborhood and though I love my homes, I continue to find myself in the burbs to often for simple things such as shopping and a night out. Don’t get me wrong we have some of the best eating and entertainment in the city but there are always some challenges. For example, if I need to do anymore than that one restaurant and or concert I’m back in the burbs the same day! Simple things need to be fixed like clean safe gas stations where the pay at the pumps work for one example. Nice small community stores that feel safe to shop at.
    I have an 11 year old daughter. At the end of last year we were so sick of DPS (Bates Academy) we had to explore options of a good education for her. We considered paying for Cornerstone and others like it just to stay in the city… BUT WHY? What are we getting out of the deal? I’m sure that DPS will be fixed, but by then she’d be nearing HS graduation or off to college already. The classic saying, “It’s is EXPENSIVE to live in Detroit” also has to be fixed. Auto, Homeowners insurance cost in the city are a joke. Property taxes have come down some but are still WAY high when you consider the surrounding property values. Water bills are now higher than the burbs. The conversation of all other issues such as Public Safety, Fire, EMS, and Transportation could go on for days.
    Needless to say after 41 years of being born and raised Detroit we packed up and moved to Farmington Hills Not even six months ago. It hurt…, I really had a hard time with it but in the end it’s whats best for my family. I had finally realized that I did not want my daughter to continue to be exposed to the life that she saw daily in Detroit. She loves going to school now. Made all new friends and keeps in contact with most of her old friends (most of which left DPS also). Funny thing is now that I’ve moved I’m kicking myself that 5i didn’t do it a long time ago. Simple things like basic shopping now get done in an hour instead of four. The savings of taxes, insurances, gas, water, pays for about %60 of the mortgage of our new home (at 250k). I havent heard a siren since I’ve moved as opposed to several times a day every day. The peace and quiet is priceless. I can see the City services that I’m paying for. The school system is VERY organized and have teachers that have not been beat to death by the system and it shows. Majority of her work is done electronically. I could go on and on for ever!
    Before Detroit can be great again a lot of things have to be fixed or else the momentum it has WILL die.

  • Another big issue is the city’s lack of empathy for college students. As a college student, I feel as though the city of Detroit is not contributing to helping me nor making me feel at home. This will lead me and many other college students to move out of state as soon we get our education. For example parking meters on the local streets near Wayne State. Do they want me to pay Detroit to park locally on a street in front of my apartment by the hour? Lol. The city does not care about their college students that could make Detroit a home,but in the end, similar minded college students will make a better decision to go to another empathetic homelike city.

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