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Toward a Comprehensive, Inclusive, and Equitable Subsidized Employment Initiative In Detroit

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By Chris Warland and Melissa Young


Detroit’s economy, like that of the rest of the nation, has experienced significant improvement over the course of the last ten years. However, in spite of lower unemployment and rising economic growth in Detroit, many residents of the city remain chronically unemployed and have few opportunities to take part in the city’s burgeoning prosperity. Labor force participation in Detroit remains low, and unemployment and poverty remain high relative to the rest of Michigan and other big cities nationally. Moreover, the benefits of Detroit’s economic growth are not being shared equitably; economic and employment outcomes are worse for black Detroiters, and better-paying jobs in the city’s growth sectors go disproportionately to white and suburban workers.

Clearly, many working-age Detroiters face barriers to employment that prevent them from accessing work even during good economic times—economic growth alone is not enough to raise them out of poverty. Detroit needs policies and programs to assist those residents who are likely to live in poverty and chronic unemployment regardless of the state of the overall economy, so they can participate in a more broadly shared prosperity. If Detroit fails to act, the current trends of increasing economic inequity are likely to continue—and get worse when the next recession comes.

A city-wide subsidized employment initiative focused on employing those Detroiters not currently engaged in the labor market could put large numbers of people to work quickly and set them on a trajectory of employment and earned income. It would also serve to prove to local employers that chronically unemployed Detroiters can and will work, in order to reframe these individuals as valuable members of the Detroit workforce. Finally, it would demonstrate that Detroit is taking concrete steps toward creating a more equitable, inclusive economy.

This paper contains an evidence-based rationale for building a citywide subsidized employment initiative to put chronically unemployed Detroiters to work, recommendations for program goals, structures, policies, and service delivery, as well as guidance for ensuring that the proposed initiative is as equitable and inclusive as possible.

Download PDF of the full working paper