Opinion | Detroit is booming. Too bad residents aren’t getting the jobs.

Gary Sands is professor emeritus of urban planning at Wayne State University.

Since the City of Detroit emerged from bankruptcy in 2014, the popular narrative about Detroit has become more optimistic. Both the media and academic writers have found it easier to say nice things about Detroit. Businesses have moved into the city, housing is being built and property values are increasing. Both Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler will invest hundreds of millions to bring thousands of new jobs to Detroit.

But all of this recent development activity does not mean that Detroit has turned the corner on its road to recovery. Because most investors still look for substantial public subsidies for their Detroit projects, the city’s comeback remains fragile.

Moreover, some have questioned the extent to which these projects actually benefit Detroit residents. Do these new developments support the “two Detroits” narrative in which one Detroit is prosperous and white while the other is struggling and non-white?

This question can in part be answered by examining employment trends across Detroit’s neighborhoods. Data from the Census Bureau indicate that, between 2011 and 2016 (the latest date for which data are available), Detroit ZIP Codes recorded an increase of 31,000 jobs, 18,000 of them in the Downtown-Midtown core. This represents an increase of almost 19 percent in five years. The number of jobs increased in 20 of Detroit’s 26 ZIP Codes.

The picture is considerably different, however, when one looks at the other side of the coin, the number of Detroiters that are working. Just because a job is located in Detroit, it does not mean that a Detroit resident holds that job. In fact, over the same five-year period, the number of Detroit residents who had jobs declined by more than 4,800 (2 percent) according to American Community Survey data. Fewer than half of Detroit’s ZIP Codes recorded gains in the number of employed residents.

These data suggest that concerns over who will benefit from economic development initiatives are largely justified. The robust job growth in recent years has largely bypassed Detroit residents. Suburbanites have been the primary beneficiaries.

If the economic development incentives of the past few years have resulted in only limited new job opportunities for Detroit residents, what can the City of Detroit do to address this issue? In the short run, economic development initiatives should prioritize attracting jobs for which Detroit residents can qualify. Development agreements should Include hiring quotas for city residents in both construction and permanent jobs. Job training programs should be expanded to address skills gaps. Public transportation improvements are needed to improve access to suburban job opportunities. Providing quality public education is a critical long-term objective.

There is clearly no easy answer. Effective strategies are difficult and unlikely to show immediate results. Nevertheless, it seems clear that economic development efforts need to be more targeted. Trickle down economic development strategies are not sufficient to address the needs of all Detroiters.

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:19am

I noticed that Prof. Sands carefully danced around the subject of what exactly these workers were bringing to the table.

What are their skills?

What are their work histories?

What is their educational level?

I can go on, but the obvious question remains unanswered; Why should someone receive a job, even when they are not capable of performing at a basic level what is required from them?

Arjay
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:05am

Thanks Kevin, you said it all for me. My take on this is that in a technical company, it will be extremely hard to provide jobs to certain ethnicities only because there are few in the talent pool. Other ethnicities have flooded the schools and there are ample people in the talent pool. It used to be that gender played a role, but now not so much. Large companies have it the hardest, only because they are the most scrutinized. The large companies have to “fill their quota” even though many know that some employees are under qualified. It’s a two way street, and part of the equation is that people have to be dedicated to doing the hard work necessary to get the right training and have the right work ethic to succeed at the job. If you don’t want to pull on the rope, then don’t expect the rope to pull on you.

mary therese lemanek
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:48pm

He did not dance around it. He acknowledged that this is a difficult and long haul problem to remedy, ergo the need for improving education and making jobs/skills training available. Many of the projects were sold to the city and given substantial financial incentives (that cost the City) with the understanding that Detroit residents would benefit. A promise that remains unfulfilled. It is essential to be honest that the "rebirth" has not been for everyone and never will be until other deficiencies are corrected.

duane
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:45pm

mary,
Are you dancing around the issue of student role/responsibility for their learning?
I notice that you make no mention of what it takes for a student to learn, nothing about studying, personal sacrifice to study. You only seem to believe that it is always someone else's responsibility for Detroit residents to have the necessary skills, you talk about those who bring the jobs, about added training being made available, and the promises unfulfilled but you seem to there is nothing the student/resident needs to do.

Angela
Thu, 07/11/2019 - 7:23pm

Is it the student's fault when the education system is broken? There are so many moving parts that all tie to institutionalized racism. There. I said it. Now, here we are with an underqualified workforce being criticized. Not cool.

don
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:32am

The only ones making money are Duggan and Dan gilbert!!!!

Rex LaMore
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:35am

Thanks Gary for your diligence in asking the hard questions.

Subee
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:13am

Actually, Rex, I agree with Kevin on this one. Create an education model for the inner city that will ensure employers that they are hiring someone with the credentials to do these 21st century jobs. Schools should be the foundations of neighborhoods with off hour activities for entire families in the evenings. Schools should be havens for students instead of run-down, unsafe buildings where in which no one wants to work. Where will the money come from? That's another conversation, but we can't effect anything unless we get rid of our short-sightedness. Not diverting funds to charter schools is a good start because no one should be making a profit off of vulnerable children.

Barry Visel
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:32am

Out State earmarks over $30 Billion for Tax Expenditures every year (tax credits, deductions and exemptions). That’s government trying to nudge people and businesses to make certain decisions with their money. It’s not just an economic development issue. It’s why we don’t have money for all the so-called crisis situations we find ourselves in.

Michigan Observer
Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:33pm

Does Mr. Visel have any evidence that $30 billion in the hands of government will be more efficiently employed than it is in the hands of citizens? More productive of human welfare? Isn't it possible that more than doubling state taxes will have large, negative effects on he state's economy? Our ancestors, living in small scale, subsistence communities, could possibly manage the community's affairs collectively, but is it feasible to scale up their procedures and methods?

David Andrews
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 11:10am

I have tried to respond to this article several times, and I keep coming back to the same final conclusion:
We must do all those things necessary to create a socioeconomic system of workers and families in Detroit (Flint, Benton Harbor, etc.). We need to start from the beginning and build the city from the ground up. carefully define the needs of an urban society, and then start doing them. anything that does not fit within the master plan must not be allowed to consume resources from those things are are on the master plan.

I don't believe a democracy can do it! It will take a king - a theocratic ruler - actually, a Solomon.

Bernadette
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 11:55am

I would agree, Gary. There are no easy answers. I find the comments to your column thus far curious. Same old, same old responses from a very tiring group of Know Nothings. They immediately go to the scapegoating game. "Personal Responsibility", "a bunch of lazy bums", "get an education", etc, etc. etc.

It is about time for all of you commenters to ask yourself the question, what part have you had in what happened in Detroit. I would imagine you are a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" generation. Well that is fine and good for the middle class, white privileged individual who has not been systematically oppressed. It is a much different story for those who have been oppressed. I find your comments narrow minded, boorish and expected.

Deb
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 9:48am

Indeed Bernadette thank you. I wish Kevin would spend more time yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off his lawn and less commenting.

Different Point...
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 1:54pm

Could it be that plenty of Detroiters that have a job moved out, thus no longer a "resident?"
Could it be that plenty of "current" residents that actually want a job, have a job?

Why can't the question be: Why are the same people who don't have a job for over a year not employed yet?

-Fellow Detroiter

Larry Good
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 2:12pm

The core conclusion of this analysis -- that fewer Detroiters have jobs now than did five years earlier -- is misleading based on the years the author picked for the comparison. Using the same data source, the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey Data, what really happened is that the number of employed Detroit residents dropped for several years, bottoming out in 2013 at 208,579. In 2017, ACS estimates 226,451 Detroiters were employed -- an 8% increase from the low point. The number employed has risen every year since 2013. Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly employment data, using a different methodology, has someone different numbers, but shows an even more pronounced trend of increase: from 2011-2019, 12% more Detroiters are employed. Whichever method you prefer, the storyline is 18,000-25,000 more Detroit residents are working today than were just a few years ago.

Justin
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 6:05pm

I agree that the numbers may be misleading, but for another potential reason. The numbers quoted are the number of Detrioters with a job, but has the population changed? It seems to me that the unemployment percentage would be more apt. Eg, if working age population dropped by 10,000, but number employed dropped by 5,000, it could be a wash or even a net gain. Overall, the way the data is presented feels cherry picked, and not very thoughtful, as can't really derive any conclusions. Some figures would be helpful...

Matt
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 2:22pm

What are the skills desired by these employers for these jobs? And what are the DPS doing to meet these skill requirements?

middle of the mit
Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:16pm

[If the economic development incentives of the past few years have resulted in only limited new job opportunities for Detroit residents, what can the City of Detroit do to address this issue? In the short run, economic development initiatives should prioritize attracting jobs for which Detroit residents can qualify. Development agreements should Include hiring quotas for city residents in both construction and permanent jobs. Job training programs should be expanded to address skills gaps. Public transportation improvements are needed to improve access to suburban job opportunities. Providing quality public education is a critical long-term objective.

There is clearly no easy answer. Effective strategies are difficult and unlikely to show immediate results. Nevertheless, it seems clear that economic development efforts need to be more targeted. Trickle down economic development strategies are not sufficient to address the needs of all Detroiters}

So much this! There are a few posters who say that the public schools aren't doing enough for the employers. What are employers doing for the public schools? Shirking their responsibility toward community involvement?

In centuries past, employers used to have apprenticeships. They used to pay you to learn their business. Now they don't want even to help pay for basic education. It's almost as if we are expected to run society for business owners as opposed to people.

How do these businesses know there are no applicants that have the talents or skillz that they need? Did they ask them? Did they take applications?

Careful how you parse it. Tech jobs are coming next. Highly skilled Visas aren't a thing because no American knows how to work computers.

How does the All America crowd feel about those Visas?

Isn't it weird how America is the best at everything until Conservatives start talking about American workers?

This is how Michigan and America are going to be in the future. Businesses don't want to pay for taxes that make society work. In fact they argue that they don't pay taxes, they just pass them on to the consumer. Is that what happens with tariffs? How is that different? Ha ha ha!

How is it that during the period from the 40's to the 80's corporations paid an exorbitant amount of taxes yet the wage gap between the CEO and the average worker was waaaay less?In some cases over 1400% less and on average they are now getting over 300% when it used to be 50%?

I know! It is because they bring in so much more profit! Is that how inflation is measured? And if it isn't, why not? I am still upset that I have pay $2 for a 4lb bag of sugar when I used to pay the same price for 5lbs!

duane
Sat, 06/15/2019 - 2:32pm

middle,
You seem to be using the economy model of the past where all a person needed to do was show up for work. You exemplify this by laying the responsibility for the future [strategies] and employment on some entity or group of elite that is responsible for the future and residents of Detroit. You ignore the role/responsibilities of the individual in their own futures, employment, and such. In a knowledge and skills based economy the individual needs to begin their preparation in their youth before any employer even knows their intentions. If the individual is so uninterested to begin learning how to learn then how is an employer able to hire them for a job that requires specialized knowledge and skills.

As for the pay difference the overall abundance has become much more appearance driven or perception driven and competitive. Using you time period of the 40s-80s consider the Iacocca and the impact he had on the auto companies [he was the savior of the Big 3 directly or indirectly]. Why wouldn't investors be willing to pay in ordinate amounts of money to someone they perceived as having the potential to make them multiple times that much money while weighing whether to replace someone sweeping flows with a robot [fixed cost]? Or look at what the pay of a pro athlete is vs, those who sell the peanuts and popcorn, which has a greater impact on revenues?

The preoccupation with the gap in income is a waste of energy the interest should be in the value people are getting from their knowledge and skills. Much greater impact is gained for the individual if the develop the marketable knowledge and skills than will ever be achieve by reduction in CEO pay. Consider a class action lawsuit, who gains the most each individual in the class or the lawyers who bring the suit and negotiate the settlement? Whine all you want about the under paid in America, but then pause and consider what they would have if the were 'poor' in the rest of the world.
You may distain the image that 'trickle down' creates, but the true comparison should be in the results that are gained. People respond to feedback, profits are the easiest to recognize and respond to, better to harness them than denigrate them.
It isn't about lamenting what you want, but to become knowledgeable and skill in the system to influence what is working to improve the systems results. Your victories may not be heralded, they may not seem earth shaking, but if it helps a bit it can be satisfying.
As for your lament about sugar; haven't you heard the latest that sugar is statistically believed to be a contributor to poor health and even cancer so shouldn't you be using less and less and thus paying an equivalent for the benefits as in the past? The other alternative, if you think the price per pound is excessive is to become part of the process that provides the sugar. You could start by moving to Bay City and becoming a sugar beet farmer and join a cooperative that process the beets to sugar or invest in the markets the retail the sugar, develop the knowledge to fit somewhere in between.

middle of the mit
Sat, 06/15/2019 - 8:28pm

Duane, you want to put the onus for education on those that can't afford it. I never said anyone needed to just show up. I said that employers used to pay people to learn their business. Do you see the difference? And then you want to put the onus on children! Teenagers at best!

Yes! They should have some idea of what they want to do but just because your circumstances are yours, doesn't mean they are EVERYBODIES!

[Why wouldn't investors be willing to pay in ordinate amounts of money to someone they perceived as having the potential to make them multiple times that much money while weighing whether to replace someone sweeping flows with a robot [fixed cost]? Or look at what the pay of a pro athlete is vs, those who sell the peanuts and popcorn, which has a greater impact on revenues?]

Have the janitors stop sweeping the floors of peanuts and popcorn and cleaning the bathrooms and find out what kind of an economic factor that has on how many people come to the games. Personal Responsibility! Customers will clean up after themselves! And save on janitorial! When are you going to be taking over for the Pistons or the Lions or Tigers?

And you should remember, people come to see the players and the game, not the office. And with that parable, the office wouldn't exist without the people.

[The preoccupation with the gap in income is a waste of energy the interest should be in the value people are getting from their knowledge and skills. Much greater impact is gained for the individual if the develop the marketable knowledge and skills than will ever be achieve by reduction in CEO pay. Consider a class action lawsuit, who gains the most each individual in the class or the lawyers who bring the suit and negotiate the settlement? Whine all you want about the under paid in America, but then pause and consider what they would have if the were 'poor' in the rest of the world.]

But don't you cons complain about how lawyers are killing America? Yet here you are applauding them for their due diligence in getting a degree that allowed to make lots of mammon. I don't get it. Oh well. Did you ever wonder how much money those individuals would have gotten in court individually? A LOT less? That doesn't matter to you though does it?

Dude, I haven't bought sugar in a few years. I just use it as something that conservatives can understand. I have on good record that Kingsford charcoal is going from an 18.6lb bag to a 16.8 lb bag.

But I'm sure I have already told you this.

Did big bad gubmit make them do that?

duane
Mon, 06/17/2019 - 1:04pm

middle,
It sounds like you think the kids should play their youth away rather than invest in their learning, because you blame the employers for not being willing to hire the under educated and making them learn once hired.
You should be putting your reference to employer training into the context of the time; it was a time when the work ethic was more critical, when loyalty was stronger [a better investment with extended return], science and technology weren’t as significant a factor, the training was more employer centric. Once you recognize the context you identify how to frame a new way to encourage employee learning.
You seem to think in ‘either/or’ when it should be about alternative means of service. Using your example of the peanuts and popcorn, there is a choice irobot or janitor, a one-time investment vs an ongoing ever increasing wage. The investment industry is turning to algorithms to replace brokers, as a replacement of means to lower cost while still receiving desire results is ever present. Begin your watch of AI [artificial intelligence] replacing CEOs. People go to the stadiums for entertainment and who decides on what/who is the entertainment, consider why Barry Sanders left in his prime.
I wonder how you define a ‘con’ so I can see how I fit into that stereotype. As for the class action ‘lottery’, I have gotten my solicitation letters to recover less then pennies on the dollar where the lawyers are getting millions in compensation, the reality is coffee is hot, drying a cat in the microwave will not be good for the cat, cutting hedges with a gas power lawnmower is likely to injure someone.
I believe in government regulations, I believe regulations should be a public source of good practices for helping improve performance of the regulated. I don’t believe in prescribing practices done 10 or 20 years ago for ease of enforcement. Those in government overlooking the business community are viewing it through a review mirror rather than by learning how it operates today and seeing what the business sees in the future.
With regards to the sugar [charcoal], where do you think the prices be and why? Where do you think wages should be and why? Do you believe the government has more wisdom on prices than the collective wisdom of the marketplace? I see the collective wisdom greater than that of a designated ‘elite,’ sugar and charcoal are good exmples.

Anonymous
Sat, 06/22/2019 - 12:48am

[It sounds like you think the kids should play their youth away rather than invest in their learning, because you blame the employers for not being willing to hire the under educated and making them learn once hired.]

YES! I think kids should play! Does that make me evil or a commie? Not all of their time should be playing, but come on man!

They are children! Playing conduces ingenuity, creativity and artistic abilities. Is that bad?

Did you all of a sudden become an Authoritarian?

[You should be putting your reference to employer training into the context of the time; it was a time when the work ethic was more critical, when loyalty was stronger [a better investment with extended return], science and technology weren’t as significant a factor, the training was more employer centric. Once you recognize the context you identify how to frame a new way to encourage employee learning.]

The time you are referring to is the same time I was referring to when I said that employers paid people to be apprentices, They PAID PEOPLE TO LEARN THE JOB THEY NEEDED TO HAVE DONE. How more employer centric do you need? If employers can't find someone to do the work, they WILL train them. It worked in the past, it will work today! And a better investment with a better return? Isn't that just stating that it is the employees that give the return on the non investment that employers want the State and employees to make on their own dime? Careful how word things!

[You seem to think in ‘either/or’ when it should be about alternative means of service. Using your example of the peanuts and popcorn, there is a choice irobot or janitor, a one-time investment vs an ongoing ever increasing wage. The investment industry is turning to algorithms to replace brokers, as a replacement of means to lower cost while still receiving desire results is ever present. Begin your watch of AI [artificial intelligence] replacing CEOs. People go to the stadiums for entertainment and who decides on what/who is the entertainment, consider why Barry Sanders left in his prime.]

Barry left in his prime because it is better to leave and let what wasn't to be known left unknown as opposed to wallowing in a thankless career. Would you want to go out on a low or a high? That is why Barry left. And it had nothing to do with mammon! And that is why he will always be one of the greats. Because he left on a high note and everyone wished he wouldn't have, but , he was still the best! And you can't say any different because he went out at top of his game!

As for the peanuts and popcorn being swept up? Go ahead! Let the PRO LIFE community start replacing jobs with unalive robots.

At that point in time, in my book, your prolife jargon goes kaput! You aren't pro life, YOU are pro Mammon! Accept it!

[I wonder how you define a ‘con’ so I can see how I fit into that stereotype. As for the class action ‘lottery’, I have gotten my solicitation letters to recover less then pennies on the dollar where the lawyers are getting millions in compensation, the reality is coffee is hot, drying a cat in the microwave will not be good for the cat, cutting hedges with a gas power lawnmower is likely to injure someone.]

First, if insurance companies only have to pay pennies on the dollar, THEN WHAT ARE YOU CON COMPLAINING ABOUT?! I thought that it was insurance company payments that were driving insurance rates up, now you are saying what? Is it doctors who are raising our rates for insurance or is it insurance companies? It seems that even you are unsure of your opinion.

Second, I would like to see you get my cat in a microwave! Good luck! Third, why would that ever cross any sane persons mind? And people don't cut hedges with gas powered lawnmowers, they use gas powered hedge trimmers!!

Who are you?

[I believe in government regulations, I believe regulations should be a public source of good practices for helping improve performance of the regulated. I don’t believe in prescribing practices done 10 or 20 years ago for ease of enforcement. Those in government overlooking the business community are viewing it through a review mirror rather than by learning how it operates today and seeing what the business sees in the future.]

If business can see into the future, why aren't they telling us what is there? Why do they refuse to invest in it? You say it is because gubmit isn't listening? BS! Isn't that what gubmit listens to the most? They give them the most tax breaks!

Live with it!

[With regards to the sugar [charcoal], where do you think the prices be and why? Where do you think wages should be and why? Do you believe the government has more wisdom on prices than the collective wisdom of the marketplace? I see the collective wisdom greater than that of a designated ‘elite,’ sugar and charcoal are good exmples.]

Then please STOP COMPLAINingG WHEN THESE PRIVATE CORPORATIONS CONTINUE TO PASS THEIR COSTS TO THE TAXPAYER FOR TAXPAYER PROJECTS!

You are UNWILLING TO PAY FOR PREMIUM, PRODUCT when it comes from the State.

DON'T COMPLAIN ANYMORE WHEN YOU GET INFERIOR PRODUCT!

IT'S WHAT YOU WANTED TO PAY FOR, and nothing less.

Gucci shirts for dollar store prices!

Get it? Got it? Good!

Michigan Observer
Fri, 06/14/2019 - 11:20pm

There seems to be some confusion between Professor Sands and Larry Good, who says, "...what really happened is that the number of employed Detroit residents dropped for several years, bottoming out in 2013 at 208,579. In 2017, ACS estimates 226,451 Detroiters were employed -- an 8% increase from the low point." Professor Sands says, "In fact, over the same five-year period, the number of Detroit residents who had jobs declined by more than 4,800 (2 percent) according to American Community Survey data." I would like to see this curious discrepancy resolved.

Leaving that aside for the moment, there is an ambiguity in Professor Sands' analysis that needs resolution. He says, "the number of Detroit residents who had jobs declined by more than 4,800 (2 percent) according to American Community Survey data." He doesn't specify the location of the jobs held by Detroit residents at the beginning or end of the five year period. Knowing the percentage of Detroit residents' jobs that are located in Detroit is crucial to knowing to what extent Detroiters have, or have not, benefited from the city's recovery. What we need to know, is what percentage of the new jobs located in Detroit are held by Detroit residents. I cannot see how that number can be derived from either Professor Sands' or Mr. Good's data.

jak48038
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 11:42am

Contractors are willing to hire minorities in Detroit, but cannot find the help. Get people off of welfare and make them work. Why work when you get everything for free. Contractors cannot find their quota of worker and must pay a penalty. It's not that hey don't waant to hire minorities, they can't find them.

CJN
Mon, 06/17/2019 - 8:28pm

Articles such as this one that highlights disparities are quite unhelpful. It is much more fruitful to explain why the disparities exist.

Eric Borrell
Mon, 06/24/2019 - 8:47pm

Professor Sands,

I have taken your classes and enjoyed them, as well as reading this article. Given the detailed data supported analysis you can present of existing conditions you are most qualified. Can you give us some specific policies you would implement to improve the employment situation in Detroit? Just some of all good quality solutions.

P.S. Commenting on your article I don't agree there is ever just trickle down economics. It is the combination of trickle down And 'cross fill' (Republican And Democratic)