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COVID-19’s Impact on Ypsilanti’s Residents of Color

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By Patrick Meehan, Marquan Jackson, Alize Asberry Payne, and Trina Shanks


Situated just east of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti is the often overlooked younger sibling of its larger, more prosperous neighbor to the west. Consisting of both a city and a township, the Ypsilanti metropolitan area is home to more than 75,000 residents. Nevertheless, the characterization of it as overlooked is not merely a benign cultural signifier but is emblematic of genuine neglect in the public consciousness and public-serving institutions reflected in the impact of COVID-19.

Home to Eastern Michigan University, and situated six miles from the University of Michigan, Ypsilanti works well for the well educated. Indeed, 41 percent of city residents, and 32 percent of township residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, better than the national average. Nevertheless, median household income in the city is only $36,982 per year, compared to $63,956 in Ann Arbor. The chasm between education and income in Ypsilanti highlights the enormous inequality in the community.

Race is inextricably linked to inequality in Ypsilanti. 33 percent of township and 27 percent of city residents are Black, respectively. Ypsilanti’s Black residents largely live far from its academic edifices and historic homes, leaving them more exposed to the novel coronavirus when it emerged in Michigan this spring.

With the understanding that the impact of COVID-19 on Black and low income residents might be overlooked or unreported, EMU’s Family Empowerment Program partnered with the Washtenaw County Racial Equity Office and the Center for Equitable Family and Community Well-Being at the University of Michigan School of Social Work to survey residents. Between June 12 and August 21, 607 Ypsilanti residents were surveyed on the impact of COVID-19, including their exposure to the disease, how serious they took the pandemic, deaths among friends and family, and so on. The research team adapted questions from the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study COVID-19 Rapid Response survey, and added additional questions to gauge feelings toward the government’s response to COVID-19 in their community. To ensure the study team captured the views of low income residents and people of color, 159 surveys were collected among residents of the Ypsilanti Housing Commission, the area’s public housing authority. The demographic characteristics of the study participants can be seen below.

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