Detroit’s economy is growing: But who’s getting the jobs?
Detroit still struggles to define who its resurgence is for, or how the influx of new jobs and residents to downtown and Midtown effect longtime Detroiters.
Drive outside the 7.2 miles of downtown and Midtown, or outside the handful of stable and rebounding neighborhoods, and the trope of two Detroits — one booming, the other distressed and struggling — is undeniable.
Population and jobs numbers included in the most recent report from Detroit Future City, a nonprofit that’s developed a strategic framework for land use in the city, offer a stark look at how far Detroit has come, and how far we have yet to go.
Detroit’s jobs-to-population ratio has increased, from 25 jobs per 100 residents in 2010 to 30 jobs for every 100 residents now. That’s a promising improvement.
But there’s another revealing measure. Of the jobs in the city, 33% are held by African Americans. That’s down from 2010, when 36% of the jobs inside Detroit were held by African Americans. Because Detroit is 80% black, it’s fair, when looking at these metrics, to use race as a stand-in for residency.
There are a couple of important caveats, here: It’s entirely likely that the number of suburban jobs that have moved into the city is what’s boosted 30-to-100 ratio. When a suburban business moves downtown, it’s not hiring for dozens or thousands of new positions. Those jobs are held by employees who move with the company. Nor is this a bad thing. Non-residents who work in Detroit pay city taxes at 1.2%, and because Detroit-based employers are required to withhold those taxes, collection rates are pretty high.
Suburban employers moving downtown means there are more people working in Detroit, more people paying taxes and patronizing businesses. That’s all good stuff.
But it’s not enough. What those numbers tell us is that Detroit’s celebrated growth, centered in downtown and Midtown, is not resulting in more jobs for Detroiters.
It’s just one metric, but it’s pretty important.
Why those jobs, those company relocations or expansions, haven’t resulted in more widespread employment for Detroiters — it’s complicated. Twenty-two percent of Detroiters lack a high school diploma; 33% have a high school diploma or a GED. Just 7% have an associate’s degree, and 13% have bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Detroit Future City report.
Companies hired to build the new hockey arena say they can’t find sufficient Detroit residents with experience in the skilled trades to meet city-mandated hiring quotas for the project’s construction.
Without significant policy change, expect those trends to continue.
Jobs training, better transportation to connect workers to available jobs, low or no-cost childcare that would enable women with children to work — that’s what needs to happen. But a truly comprehensive program would be phenomenally expensive.
Growth and redevelopment centered in midtown and downtown for organic reasons. Most simply, each area has resources — like major employers, educational institutions or hospitals — that attracted investment.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and city planner Maurice Cox believe the same kind of strategies can benefit other Detroit neighborhoods — like Fitzgerald in northwest Detroit, where more than $4 million will rehabilitate 115 vacant houses and create a new park and other amenities — chosen in part because of nearby anchor institutions like like Marygrove College and the University of Detroit-Mercy. It’s a pilot program, one intended to serve as proof of concept that targeted investment can bear results outside Detroit’s urban core.
Likewise, Cox hopes to direct investment to the city’s commercial corridors — outside of midtown and downtown — in an intentional manner, bolstering existing business districts.
It’s the kind of patient planning Detroit requires — and more of it — to close the chasm between the Detroit that is, and the Detroit we need to be.
Detroit Free Press