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Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan

Joan and Sanford Weill hall
Suite 5100
735 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091


Poverty Solutions Director Luke Shaefer to give inaugural Kohn lecture on using evidence to fight poverty

ANN ARBOR Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer will discuss lessons in using evidence to fight poverty at the inaugural Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professorship in Social Policy and Social Justice Lecture on Nov. 3.

The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. at Weill Hall. The in-person event held in room 1120 is open only to current U-M students, faculty, and staff; doors open at 3:30 p.m., and advance registration is required. The public is welcome to watch via livestream on the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s website.

Shaefer is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, an endowed professorship supported by the Kohn Collaborative for Social Policy that Harold and Carol Kohn established at the Ford School to catalyze interdisciplinary research on policy that promotes social equity and inclusion for all U.S. residents. Shaefer also is a professor of social work, the Ford School’s assistant dean of research and policy engagement, and the founding director of Poverty Solutions, a five-year-old, university-wide presidential initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

In his lecture, Shaefer will share case studies in the use of data and evidence to address poverty, making the case that applied research should inform real change. He will discuss both the persistence of disadvantage over many generations in United States and the moments where dramatic change has occurred for the better.

Nearly 38,000 households in Detroit estimated to be living in inadequate housing

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027, 
               Morgan Sherburne,  

DETROIT—The scale of Detroit’s home repair need is even greater than previously estimated, according to new findings from the University of Michigan, which underscores residents’ desire to make home repair a top priority for spending the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Nearly 38,000 households in Detroit—which equates to more than 1 in 7 occupied homes—have faced major issues with exposed wires or electrical problems, broken furnace or heating problems, or lack of hot or running water in their homes in the past year, according to the representative survey of Detroiters conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, or DMACS.

Notably, significant home repair needs were not confined to residents with low incomes, but were a major issue for both low- and middle-income Detroiters. Sixteen percent of residents making under $30,000 per year and 15% of those earning between $30,000 and $60,000 per year were living in inadequate housing.

While the city of Detroit recently announced a home repair program—Renew Detroit—that will distribute $30 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds as home repair grants to seniors with low incomes and homeowners with disabilities, gaps in home repair resources remain.

Existing home repair programs are often oversubscribed, are out of financial reach for many homeowners with low incomes, provide too little funding to cover major repairs or are generally inaccessible for renter households. While the vast majority of higher-income individuals living in inadequate housing undertook home repairs, only 33% of low-income individuals did.

RelatedEvaluation of Detroit’s Make It Home Repair Program

Renters (16%) were also more likely to live in inadequate housing than homeowners (12%). While two-thirds of renters overall (65%) said their landlord was somewhat or very responsive to repair requests, less than half of renters living in inadequate quality housing report their landlords were similarly responsive to requests for home repairs. Households with children (18%) and residents of color (14%) are also among the groups more likely to be living in housing classified as inadequate.

“The city’s Renew Detroit program is an excellent first step, but the 750 homes it is expected to reach in its first year offers little relief to the many other residents living in substandard housing conditions,” said Lydia Wileden, research associate at DMACS and U-M sociology and public policy doctoral candidate.

Among all Detroiters, the most commonly reported home maintenance issues were related to plumbing (39%). About one-third of Detroit residents also reported problems with mice, rats, roaches and other pests (34%); structural problems with their porches (33%); and/or unsafe or damaged trees (31%). While a lack of reliable access to running water was the least common issue reported, 1 in 20 Detroiters still indicated that they had not had running water in their house at some point in the last year.

RelatedAddressing the Links between Poverty, Housing and Water Access and Affordability in Detroit

“The scale of home repair needs in Detroit is the result of decades of disinvestment in the city’s housing stock driven by predatory lending, speculative landlords and improper property tax assessment coupled with residents’ low incomes that leave little money for expensive repairs,” said Elisabeth Gerber, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of public policy and research associate in the Center for Political Studies at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

“Safe, quality housing is linked to individuals’ physical and mental health as well as the civic and economic health of communities,” Gerber said. “It is clear that many of the city’s residents need a more robust system of support to address these fundamental needs.”

RelatedDetroit Home Repair Resource Guide

While the need for assistance in Detroit is great, relatively small sums of repair funding can go a long way toward enhancing housing quality and stability. According to a recent Poverty Solutions analysis of a grant program administered by the United Community Housing Coalition, a median grant of $6,000 in monetary and in-kind grants enabled homeowners to address, on average, one of every two major repair needs.

DMACS has been surveying representative samples of Detroiters since 2016. This latest wave of the survey was open from June 2 to July 9, 2021, and captures the views of 1,898 residents. To represent the views of the city as a whole, survey responses are weighted to match Detroit’s population demographics.

Past estimates of the scale of home repair needs in Detroit were based on American Housing Survey estimates for the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area, which likely underestimate the need for home repair in Detroit given the unique characteristics of the city’s housing stock and residents’ socioeconomic status. The DMACS report examines housing conditions only among Detroit residents, though the data do not provide the same level of detail as the American Housing Survey.


Latino Michiganders: Key findings from U-M Poverty Solutions

Contact: Mara Ostfeld,  
               Nardy Baeza Bickel, 734-763-0368, 

ANN ARBOR—As National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the culture and contributions of Latinos in the U.S., comes to a close, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan highlights key data from its research that relates to Latinos living in Michigan.


The percentage of Latinos in Detroit who would feel more safe with an increased police presence in their neighborhood, according to a recent report by the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study on attitudes toward crime and policing. This is significantly lower than the percentage of Black (45%) and white (41%) Detroiters who would feel more safe with an increased police presence in the neighborhoods. Despite the report’s findings that Latinos report higher rates of criminal victimization and indirect exposure to criminal activity, Latinos in Detroit are much less likely to feel safe with police in their neighborhoods. 

$3 Million

The estimated amount of money that undocumented workers in Michigan lose each year due to workplace injuries and a lack of access to workers’ compensation benefits. A majority of these workers immigrated from Latin America. According to an analysis prepared by Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager for Poverty Solutions, about 1,400 undocumented workers are injured in Michigan each year at work. Yet despite their contributions to Michigan’ social and economic fabric and their concentration in relatively high-risk jobs (e.g., agriculture, construction, manufacturing), undocumented workers in Michigan do not have access to workers’ compensation available to other employees.


The number of other states (including the District of Columbia) that Michigan would join if it passed the DRIVE Safe Bills (House Bills 4835 and 4836) to expand access to state-issued IDs. Poverty Solutions faculty experts Paul Fleming and William Lopez, along with the University of California-Irvine’s Alana Lebron, recently authored an op-ed on the significance of driver’s licenses to the public health of undocumented immigrants and others who cannot prove legal presence. They offer evidence that a lack of “access to a valid driver’s license was preventing patients from receiving needed preventative health services.” As a result, they argue that expanding access to driver’s licenses would have significant public health benefits for communities across the state.


The percentage of Latinos in Detroit who are in the labor force but unemployed, according to a recent report by the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study on unemployment dynamics. Similar to other Detroiters, this is largely attributed to the pandemic. Most Latinos who are in the labor force but unemployed indicate that either their place of employment was closed due to COVID-19 or they were laid off due to the pandemic. Among Latino Detroiters who are in the labor force and unemployed, more than 95% say they have actively been looking for work.

Federal unemployment money during pandemic boosted health care spending

Contact: Jared Wadley,
Lauren Slagter,

Emergency federal dollars given to the unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic bolstered health care spending as jobless rates skyrocketed, a new University of Michigan study found.

But the negative consequences of unemployment and moderating effects of federal income support were greatest in states that did not adopt Medicaid expansion. The study, published in the current issue of Health Services Research, contributes to previous findings that federal income support programs can mitigate hardship during economic crises.

Before the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 weekly was implemented nationwide, health services spending declined by 1% for every percentage point increase in the unemployment insurance claims rate, as compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“Yet the reality that a temporary federal program bolstered health care spending during a public health and economic crisis underscores the perils of a fragmented and costly health care system that ties coverage to employment for working-age people and fails to provide universal coverage,” said study co-author Luke Shaefer, U-M’s Poverty Solutions faculty director.

The study targeted a brief period, spanning 31 weeks starting in mid-January 2020, when the pandemic was in its early stages. At that time, the federal government passed many unprecedented spending measures. Unfortunately for millions of workers, Congress allowed those federal unemployment insurance programs that were studied to expire last month, said lead author Michael Evangelist, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. He conducted the research with others as a U-M doctoral student of social work before going to New York this past summer.

Researchers used data on credit and debit card purchases nationwide to estimate the buffering effects of expanded unemployment insurance benefits on declines in health care services spending during the pandemic.

Specifically, the spending focused on regular visits to doctors and other health practitioners like dentists and optometrists, as well as ambulance services, visits to hospitals and nursing home costs. These data, however, do not capture insurance premiums or prescription drugs purchased at retail outlets.

For each percentage point increase in the unemployment insurance claims rate, health care spending declined by 1% in Medicaid expansion states and by 2% in nonexpansion states. Overall, FPUC payments mitigated half of this negative association, the research indicated.

Researchers also noted that other studies have found that unemployment insurance mitigates the negative health effects of job loss. When benefits are generous, it can lower suicide rates, improve physical activity among the unemployed, and increase health insurance coverage and utilization.

Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and associate dean for research and policy engagement at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Evangelist also co-authored the study with Pinghui Wu, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Poverty Solutions when she did this work.




Child Tax Credit providing critical help, but not reaching more than 1 in 10 eligible families

Contact: Mara Ostfeld, 215-459-7850,
Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819, 

ANN ARBOR—While most eligible families received the Child Tax Credit and used it to cover the costs of essential household expenses, a new survey indicates that more than 1 in 10 CTC-eligible families have not received the credit and were either uncertain about how to claim it or did not know why they did not receive it.

In March, Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to provide low- and middle-income families with monthly payments of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per child ages 6-17. The expanded CTC is already estimated to have reduced child poverty by about 30%. 

Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, in partnership with Propel, surveyed  low-income parents who use the Providers application—a free mobile app that helps more than 5 million families manage their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits—and found that more than three-quarters of CTC-eligible users either received the Child Tax Credit payment (68%), were still expecting their first payment (4%), or understood why they did not receive an initial payment (11%). 

However, about 13% of CTC-eligible users reported they didn’t get the credit and were either unfamiliar with the CTC or the process by which they would receive it.

Among users of the Providers application, parents who took the survey in Spanish stood out as notably less likely to say they received the initial CTC payment, compared to those who took the survey in English. Just over half of parents who took the survey in Spanish indicated they had received their first payment, compared to more than two-thirds of parents who took the survey in English. Spanish-dominant parents were also less likely to have heard of the CTC. Five percent of parents who took the survey in Spanish reported not having heard of the CTC, compared with only 2% of those who took the survey in English.

RelatedThe Child Tax Credit: What You Need to Know, with FAQs in Spanish

Additionally, parents with fewer years of formal education are less likely to have received the August CTC payment. Parents who did not have a high school diploma were 13 percentage points less likely to have received the credit in August than those who had an associate degree or more education.

“The expanded Child Tax Credit clearly provides essential support to families. This support will almost certainly produce long-term benefits to children and in particular children in lower-income households,” said Natasha Pilkauskas, co-author of the policy brief “Receipt and Usage of Child Tax Credit Payments among Low-Income Families: What we know” and associate professor of public policy at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. 

“Yet it is important that we take additional steps to ensure the CTC is reaching and supporting all eligible children and families who can benefit from this important investment.”

Among those users of the Providers application who did receive the CTC, almost everyone reported that it was useful in helping them make ends meet (94%) and that it is important to continue the CTC in the future (92%). The vast majority of respondents who received the CTC reported using the money for basic living expenses like paying bills (75%), paying rent/mortgage (9%), paying off debt (4%) and buying food (7%). 

A large share of respondents (42%) also reported using the money for child-related expenses, like school supplies, children’s clothing and child care. Importantly, however, 16% of respondents reported the initial CTC payment did not provide enough help. 

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which polls a nationally representative sample of U.S. households, showed a 30% decline in food insufficiency among adults with children following the initial monthly payments and a 43% decline in food insufficiency among low-income households that received the initial payment. 

“We can see in the data the ways in which these payments are impacting families across the country: helping them pay for food, bills, and other household expenses,” said Patrick Cooney, assistant director of policy impact at Poverty Solutions and co-author of the policy brief. “But we can also see that there’s more work to do to ensure all eligible families receive this critical benefit.”

This survey was conducted in collaboration with Propel, the creators of Providers (formerly Fresh EBT), between Sept. 1 and 15, 2021. The analyses in this report reflect the views of over 3,000 U.S. parents living with children under 18 that use the Providers application. 



Poverty Solutions Director Luke Shaefer testifies at U.S. House hearing on pandemic relief programs

By Lauren Slagter
Poverty Solutions

Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer testified about the impact of pandemic relief programs at a Sept. 22 hearing before the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. 

Recent Census Bureau data shows that the pandemic relief legislation, particularly the American Rescue Plan, helped millions of Americans pay their basic expenses and reduced the poverty rate even as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on our economy,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-South Carolina and chair of the select subcommittee, at the hearing. “The American Rescue Plan was designed as a temporary stopgap measure to rescue our economy from an unprecedented crisis. We must now extend many of its provisions and build on them to create a strong, sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic economy.”

Shaefer discussed the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the December 2020 COVID-19 relief measures, and the American Rescue Plan. He is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, professor of social work, and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at U-M.

“The social safety net response ushered in by the bi-partisan CARES Act and continued in the December COVID relief bill and American Rescue Plan is truly historic. A wealth of evidence now shows it has proven incredibly effective,” Shaefer said during his testimony. “I believe the success is due in large part to the speed and flexibility of a broad-based approach that prioritized putting money in people’s pockets.” 

Related: ‘Stimulus checks substantially reduced hardship,’ NYT and Newsweek report, citing Poverty Solutions study

Other witnesses at the hearing included: Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, economist and director of the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research; the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum.



Majority of Detroiters want police reform, many also want increased police presence

Contact: Mara Ostfeld, 215-459-7850,
               Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844, 

DETROIT—Competing concerns about police brutality and high crime rates are reflected in Detroiters’ attitudes toward the police, according to University of Michigan research.

A recent U-M survey finds that about 6 in 10 adult Detroit residents believe police killings of both Black and Latino people are part of a broader pattern of mistreatment of people of color by the police, and would like to see significant police reforms. At the same time, Black, Latino and white Detroit residents were each about three times as likely to say a greater police presence in their neighborhood would make them feel more safe than they were to say a greater police presence would make them feel less safe.

According to the representative survey of Detroit households conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, a significant majority of Detroiters favor police reforms, including requiring police to be trained in nonviolent policing methods (79%), giving the civilian oversight board the power to investigate and discipline officers for misconduct (68%), and using unarmed first responders for mental health calls (66%).

Yet crime also remains a prominent concern among Detroiters. Nearly 3 in 10 Detroit residents said they have been the victim of a crime in the past year (28%), and just under half (46%) of respondents who moved in the past 12 months cited crime and safety as a reason. Among the most likely to report direct experiences with crime were Latino residents (40%), residents between 18 and 40 years old (33%) and lower-income residents (32%).

Indirect exposure to criminal activity follows a similarly uneven pattern. Those living outside of the city’s core were significantly more likely to hear gunshots and witness drug activity in their neighborhoods, relative to those living in the Downtown, Midtown, and The Villages neighborhoods.

These concerns about both crime and police brutality are evident in the mixed evaluations of the police. Nearly half (45%) of residents agree that police in their neighborhood can be trusted. Similarly, 46% of residents somewhat or strongly agree that the police are doing a good job protecting their neighborhood, including a majority of white residents (57%), residents 65 and older (59%) and residents with college degrees (53%). At the same time, about one-quarter of Detroiters do not feel that police are trustworthy or are doing a good job protecting their neighborhood. Latino residents (38%) and residents under 40 (34%) are especially unlikely to say they feel good about the role of police in their neighborhood.

“These findings highlight the complexity of public safety policy in Detroit and in cities across the country. The pressure for reform and for protection, as well as attitudes toward the police, are far more nuanced and complicated than is often depicted,” said Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of public policy and sociology, and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

When it comes to the effect of a greater police presence in their neighborhood, 42% of residents said that it would make them feel more safe. Ten percent of Detroit residents say more police in their neighborhood would make them feel less safe. While white residents and college-educated residents were among the most likely to indicate feeling good about police presence in their neighborhoods, they were also among the most likely to indicate feeling less safe with an increased police presence in their neighborhood.

In addition, newer residents—those who have lived in the city for fewer than five years—were more likely to oppose increased police presence than long-term residents. A quarter (24%) of newer residents say that increased police presence would make them feel less safe, compared to 8% of longer term residents.

DMACS has been surveying representative samples of Detroiters since 2016. This latest wave of the survey was open from June 2 to July 9, 2021, and captures the views of 1,898 residents. To represent the views of the city as a whole, survey responses are weighted to match Detroit’s population demographics.



U-M awarded grant to support Detroit entrepreneurs in bridging digital divide

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Michigan was awarded $300,000 from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to train local residents and U-M students to provide one-on-one technology support to Detroit entrepreneurs. The project aims to better understand the types and complexity of technology support that small businesses need, along with preferences around timing and delivery.

Lutalo Sanifu

The researchers will work with U-M alum Lutalo Sanifu (MURP ‘18) and his colleagues at Jefferson East, Inc, a nonprofit community organization committed to developing work for Detroiters and reducing barriers to small business growth and expansion.

The university project team includes Kristin Seefeldt, associate director of Poverty Solutions and associate professor of social work; Tawanna Dillahunt, associate professor at the School of Information; Julie Hui, assistant professor at the School of Information; Christie Baer, assistant director for the Center on Finance, Law & Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and program director for the center’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project; and Aaron Jackson, program manager of the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project.

Kristin Seefeldt

“Small businesses are a key driver of economic mobility and employment in Detroit, but the digital divide prevents some businesses from reaching their full potential. This research will give us a better understanding of the technology needs of small business owners, so workforce development efforts can provide the tech support that local entrepreneurs need to thrive. We’re excited to be partnering with Jefferson East in this endeavor,” said Seefeldt, primary investigator for the research project.

The project builds on Dillahunt and Hui’s partnership with the Friends of Parkside to pilot a “community tech worker” program to assist seniors requiring technology-related support. Tech workers will be embedded at Jefferson East to develop a sustainable, useful model that will help bridge the digital divide for small businesses.

Tawanna Dillahunt

“I’m excited that we’re able to extend our Community Tech Workers pilot to provide support for local businesses,” said Dillahunt. “I hope to see Community Tech Workers embedded in every community!”

Julie Hui

U-M’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project has observed that older and lower-income business owners generally find tools like scheduling software or excel-based cash flow calculators to be difficult to use without training. Baer says assistance with using technological tools could make a big difference for small businesses.

“This pilot project fills a large gap in Detroit’s entrepreneurial landscape. When it comes to teaching tech skills, there is no substitute for one-on-one support,” Baer said. “Our hope is that this pilot will provide information that is needed for some of our Detroit partners to be able to offer individual tech support to business owners in the future.”

Christie Baer

The U-M project was one of six in the Kauffman Foundation’s community-engaged research portfolio.

“We’re excited to support community engagement in the research process through this grant portfolio. These six projects aim to build equitable, collaborative, solution-driven initiatives between communities and researchers with the potential to advance inclusive prosperity through entrepreneurship,” said Chhaya Kolavalli, senior program officer, Knowledge Creation & Research, Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Mo., that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development.

Release courtesy of Rebecca Cohen, Ford School of Public Policy

Dark matter, universal child allowance up for discussion at Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions series

ANN ARBOR – How did racism and sexism become embedded in our understanding of physics and the cosmos? What does the fight over the Affordable Care Act – better known as Obamacare – reveal about our country’s politics? What would it take for the U.S. to adopt a universal child allowance?

The annual Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions speaker series will explore these issues and many others, featuring speakers including Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a trailblazing theoretical cosmologist who also explores the relationship between how we understand science and broader societal justice; HuffPost Senior National Correspondent Jonathan Cohn, who covers politics and healthcare policy; and H. Luke Shaefer, the director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and a contributor to significant research on the potential of a universal child allowance to drastically reduce child poverty in the U.S. 

The eight-week fall speaker series is hosted by Poverty Solutions at U-M, a university-wide presidential initiative that aims to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research, in partnership with various university departments. The virtual talks, which are free and open to the public, will be livestreamed on YouTube with the opportunity for Q&A; most of the talks will run from noon to 1 p.m. EST on Fridays. U-M students can participate in the series as a one-credit course.

Here’s the speaker series lineup:

  • Sept. 17: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in conversation about affordable housing
  • Sept. 24: Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality
  • Oct. 1: Jeremy Levine, author of “Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Development and Inequality in Boston”
  • Oct. 8: Carolyn Barnes, author of “State of Empowerment: Low-income Families and the New Welfare State”
  • Oct. 15: Terri Friedline, author of “Banking on a Revolution: Why Financial Technology Won’t Save a Broken System”
  • Oct. 22: Jonathan Cohn, author of “The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage”
  • Oct. 29: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, author of “The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred”
  • Nov. 5: Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer as part of a panel discussing a universal child allowance

Detroit unemployment sits at 25%—lower than pandemic peak, twice pre-pandemic rate

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027,

DETROIT—Detroit’s unemployment rate—the proportion of working-age adults in the labor force but not currently employed—has held steady around 25% since fall 2020, according to data just released from a University of Michigan survey. 

While the current unemployment rate is more than twice what it was prior to the pandemic (11%), it has fallen considerably from its peak of nearly 48% in June 2020.

The data obtained from the representative survey of Detroit households conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study reflect the same general trends found by the Current Population Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics in Detroit. 

While the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study surveys are not collected monthly and thus cannot reflect some of the dips and spikes captured in monthly labor force estimates, the data capture the experiences of a representative sample of Detroit residents that is nearly 20 times the size of the sample of residents captured in the Current Population Survey estimates. This also differentiates the DMACS data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates, which are produced from statistical models based on aggregated data.

The survey finds that among those currently unemployed, just 20% are recently unemployed (out of work for five months or less) while 33% have been out of work for six to 11 months. Nearly half (47%) of unemployed Detroiters report being out of work for more than a year.

Importantly, Black and Latino Detroiters, low-wage earners, residents without college degrees and adults in households with kids were more likely to be unemployed than other Detroit residents. The effects of unemployment are most pronounced among lower-income Detroiters, with nearly half of Detroit residents in the labor force with household incomes under $30,000 a year being unemployed, compared to 6% of those with household incomes of $60,000 or more. 

Most unemployed Detroiters attribute their unemployment to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the multiple explanations that each respondent could offer for their unemployment, 49% say their place of work has closed and 50% say they were laid off due to the pandemic. 

Additionally, 10% of unemployed Detroit residents say being sick with COVID-19 or caring for someone with COVID-19 contributed to their unemployment. One-quarter (26%) of unemployed Detroit residents report they had to stop working due to family and personal obligations resulting from the pandemic.

While there was no evidence of significant gender differences in who was unemployed, the reported reasons for unemployment were different among women and men. Forty percent of unemployed women report they are not working in part due to family obligations, compared to only 12% of unemployed men.

“Unemployment remains a significant problem among Detroit households, and like so many issues, it does not fall evenly across Detroiters. We see ongoing evidence of the pandemic as an economic crisis as well as a public health crisis,” said Elisabeth Gerber, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of public policy and research associate in the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research.  

In addition to the active members of the labor force who are unemployed, 42% of adults in Detroit are out of the labor force. This marks a small increase in the number of Detroiters who have left the labor force relative to March 2021 (37%) and October 2020 (38%), according to DMACS surveys.

DMACS has been surveying representative samples of Detroiters since 2016. This latest wave of the survey was open June 2-July 9, 2021, and captures the views of 1,898 residents. To represent the views of the city as a whole, survey responses are weighted to match Detroit’s population demographics.

DMACS survey: Unemployment Dynamics in Detroit During the COVID-19 Pandemic