Coronavirus pandemic slams Detroit economy, protesters want change

Tristan Taylor, a Millennial who has worked as a barista, emerged as one of the leaders in the Detroit protests. (Photo by Serena Maria Daniels)

Here’s another underlying reason why thousands of Millennials and Gen Z young people are protesting: rampant unemployment. 

In April, one out of every four Detroit workers was out of a job either temporarily or permanently, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Wednesday.  

April was the first full month of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and business shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city of Detroit’s unemployment rate catapulted from 9.8 to 38.5 percent. Statewide, the rate is 23 percent.


Making systemic changes to ease financial hardship is a theme among the Detroit protests and nationwide, which was sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. 

One of the leaders to emerge from the local protests is Detroiter Tristan Taylor, who at age 37 is a Millennial. Taylor usually works as a barista in Midtown. He’s spoken out against income inequality issues many Detroit residents face. He is a co-founder of Detroit Renter City, a group that seeks to halt evictions due to the skyrocketing unemployment. The group wants Detroit police to refuse to enforce eviction orders. 

“No evictions!” Taylor repeatedly yells to the crowd of protesters.

Detroit’s unemployment rate is its highest this century, surpassing the 28 percent jobless rate in 2009 during the Great Recession, according to the labor department.

Millennials and Gen Z, along with people of color and women, were hit earliest and hardest by job losses during the pandemic, many economists believe. That’s due to the sectors in which many work: leisure, hospitality, retail, and food and beverage services.

Karmen Wettlin, a city resident and Millennial, was laid off from her downtown restaurant job in mid-March. “The hospitality industry is primarily staffed by black and brown bodies. There is no investment in the lives of the people that have worked to rebuild this city,” Wettlin said. “We’ve lost our jobs, our healthcare, our lives.”

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the “pandemic is falling on those least able to bear its burdens,” during a press conference last month. "It is a great increase of inequality.”

While workers of all ages face economic upheaval, Millennials are especially at risk. Now between roughly 24 and 40 years old, they have a much smaller financial cushion than prior generations had at their age to protect them from job losses and economic volatility, various economists contend. 

"Millennials as a whole were more vulnerable going into this," said Ana Hernandez Kent, a policy analyst for the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Especially for those who have lost jobs, lost their income and then have no wealth safety net to fall back on, they could really suffer from this and be hard-pressed to recover."

Gen Z is also experiencing economic uncertainty. Although new to the job market, summer jobs and internships have evaporated and they are more likely than older generations to work in industries impacted by social distancing, according to the Pew Research Center. 

Meeko Williams, 35, who helped organize the first protest on May 29 at the Detroit Police headquarters downtown, cited skyrocketing financial insecurity as a motivator.

 “Unemployment has hit 40 million Americans, making them reconsider what they are doing with their lives and we are the ones working all of the hours,” said Williams.

There's a record number of people applying. In Michigan, 1.8 million residents have filed for public assistance since the coronavirus prompted business shutdowns and a statewide stay-at-home order.

Detroit resident Christian Smith is among the estimated 124,000 still waiting for unemployment benefits. He's been waiting for more than two months for a single paycheck. ‘I can’t even get someone on the phone,” he said.

State officials can only give vague assurances when he and others may get their money.  

The cap on state unemployment is $362 per week, and the average payout is $325 per week.  

On Wednesday, 20 state House members urged an overhaul of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency as tens of thousands of Michigan residents face lengthy waits for help during the pandemic.

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Wrong recipients
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 11:02am

Washington state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to unemployment fraud, the most extreme case so far of the scams thriving nationwide in the uncertain conditions created by the pandemic.

What are the stats for Michigan?

Wrong recipients
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 11:05am

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: The state of Washington admitted yesterday that it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to bogus unemployment claims. This is the latest and biggest example of an increasing number of pandemic-related fraud cases. NPR's Martin Kaste reports the crisis has created ideal conditions for scammers.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: By last weekend, it was already pretty clear that something bad was happening to Washington state's unemployment system. Jevin West is an associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

JEVIN WEST: I get this email from my dean that said, uh-oh, my identity has been stolen. Yours might be, too. You better check.

KASTE: Turns out, somebody was impersonating university faculty members, using their names and Social Security numbers to apply for unemployment benefits. And West found that his ID was being misused this way, too.

WEST: I have colleagues across the university - in the medical school, in the law school. And every single group that I talked to, there was at least some. And in some cases, many had their identities stolen.

KASTE: There have been similar reports from all across Washington, and the state now acknowledges that there have been tens of thousands of bogus unemployment claims in just a few weeks. It's lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wake up people! United we stand, divided we fall.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 11:25am

Well, I for one am shocked that the protesters are demanding that "systemic changes to ease financial hardship" be made. One could imagine that policy changes would be suggested- but instead the protesters are demanding that changes be made, through force and revolution if necessary. One might have also guessed that the changes that these protesters wanted was more fair justice in the legal system run by the government and individual rights better protected- but again, that's not what they are after. They want to overthrow capitalism ("end evictions" would destroy small business owners who operate affordable housing projects and cause them to invest less in these efforts and raise rents on those in them). They want the government to take more control over private businesses. I can't figure out- are they fascists (that desire the corporatist model of an economy and everything as part of the state) or are they communists (that desire the authoritarian model of an economy and everything as part of the workers/state)- either way, I am surprised.

middle of the mit
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 5:35pm

Could you tell where in the article you got the idea that anyone wanted force or revolution? How is it that they aren't asking for fair justice for their individual rights? They don't want to overthrow capitalism, they want to stop getting kicked out of their own neighborhoods for the benefit of some wealthy developer and people that aren't them. I highly doubt they want Government to take over private business.

[[[I can't figure out- are they fascists (that desire the corporatist model of an economy and everything as part of the state) or are they communists (that desire the authoritarian model of an economy and everything as part of the workers/state)- either way, I am surprised.]]]

This tells me that you don't know what a fascist is. Fascists want corporate control of Government, and the State, county, township..... Communists want no private property, and everything is distributed by the State. Then there are authoritarians. You might confuse these people with actual communists, or fascists, but they are not.

These people want their needs met. Just like anyone else. You complain because you can't get your hair cut, they complain because they don't have opportunity. Which one seems more important?

[[[One might have also guessed that the changes that these protesters wanted was more fair justice in the legal system run by the government and individual rights better protected]]]

A legal system, run by the Government? Who has been appointing judges that agree with corporations over employees and everyone else?

Do you really want to do this?

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 11:30am

Unbelievable to me that Whitmer doesn't address the violence and the destruction in Grand Rapids. She is a Democrat. She will not open the schools because she is part of the Democrat agenda. Just as this publication monitors what is posted. WE are being taken over be Socialist. She lied to all of us. If you vote for another Democrat you are a traitor to our nation.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 12:31pm

The cultural and social marxists are using the protests as a pretext in order to engender support for their failed ideologies.

Their ideas have never worked before...ever.

Their ideas will never will work in the future.

The fact that they now have cameras in their collective faces is a hail mary play on their end (along with a welcome diversion for the media with their 24/7 pandemic porn coverage), and is nothing more than their latest attempt to gain converts.

middle of the mit
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 9:02pm

Who are these cultural marxists you speak of?

[[[Their ideas have never worked before...ever.
Their ideas will never will work in the future.]]]

I believe they are looking for this though.

I think it is more they have cameras in everyone else's collective face. And people are getting tired of Karens calling the police everytime they see a black person where they don't want them. Especially considering what may or may not happen to that black person when the police show up.

What they want is economic opportunity. It doesn't exist today. And it hasn't since white flight. If the private sector isn't willing to invest in the people of OUR inner cities, but will gladly run over to China, what do you think the private sector is going to do to help without some type of State or City intervention? Then they do what? Run to China!

So could we see some productive ideas that would instill some money into these communities and other low income communities across the land and not keep it all on Fall Street and tax shelters across the World?

That is what is needed.

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 1:37pm

Today is the 76th anniversary of D-Day and not one mention of it that I have seen on any of the media. Articles about protests, riots, demands, the pandemic, and unemployment fraud, but not one mention of the thousands of English, Canadian, and American soldiers who gave their lives that we might be able to speak freely instead of living under a dictator who had no qualms about eliminating people of certain religions, races, or ethnicities, and would make us speak a different language had he prevailed.

Also sad that service for the country seems to be going away. I guess it is not in the millennials or Gen-Z playbook to serve in the armed forces where they might pick up the opportunity to learn a trade or some other field to better themselves.

Barry Visel
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 4:14pm

I’m not sure of the point of this story. You mentioned people that are baristas or restaurant workers who apparently want higher pay(reading between the lines), don’t want to pay their rent, and now are placed in a situation where they may have to “reconsider their life choices”. If I have this right, then reconsidering their life choices seems like the obvious conclusion. Otherwise, this story needs to provide more clarity and explanation as to what the reader is supposed to get from this.

middle of the mit
Sun, 06/07/2020 - 8:12pm

If every barista "reconsiders their life choices" who is going to serve you coffee?

Who is going to do all the work you consider yourself above but need done to make you feel fulfilled in your lifestyle without doing it yourself?

But yet you don't want to pay enough for these people to live in YOUR society. drive the prices of things. NOT baristas. They don't have purchasing power, remember?

Wasn't that taught in economics 101?

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 12:26pm

How about a high school or college student pours your coffee? Not a 37 year old man that should have a real job at that stage in life. Its not anyones fault if they have a low paying "kid" job and cant pay their rent. Time to grow up Tristan, get a real job

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 11:11pm

Can’t blame folks for being angry when unemployment benefits are so badly delayed. Yea, I know, lots of people applying. Still, this is a major failure on the part of state government. The writer is being disingenuous by quoting state unemployment benefits without adding the $600 weekly federal benefit. Most lower wage workers will be doing just fine if the state will just get them the benefits. It is the business owners that will suffer most from both the coronavirus and the Governor’s excessive shutdown order. Many will lose their life’s work.

Doby Joe
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:11am

These protesters are right- they do need to change the system. The inner cities are areas where Democrats have done the most to impose their agenda, and this has led to a lack of freedom, liberty, capitalism, and business. They need to reject communism and fascism and change the system to the system that most of the rest of the United States runs- capitalism and freedom and liberty and prosperity. Only by rejecting the new radical Democrats can these people find any hope of a future.

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 11:05am

All this focus on the plights of the people living in SE Michigan. What about the rest of the state? Last month, there were several articles about the people who live in Northern Michigan. How they survive in an area with few to no jobs. How the closest hospital may be in the next county, or further, how the only industry might be Tourist.
If the state decides to create some relief for the unemployed, the working citizens must then cover all the state, including all who are unemployed because there is no employment available.