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Understanding Job (Mis)Match: Jobs and Jobseekers in Detroit

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By Pinghui Wu, Joshua Rivera, and Samiul Jubaed

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally changed Detroit’s labor and job markets, with the city’s unemployment rate currently estimated at 32% and many businesses still shuttered. However, even prior to the pandemic, Detroit residents faced limited employment opportunities. This analysis examines the extent to which job opportunities available in Detroit and the tri-county area before the COVID-19 outbreak matched the skills and attributes of Detroit residents. The results of this research can inform workforce training and barrier removal strategies, which will take on added importance during the period of economic recovery. The following summarizes our main findings:

  • Across several major cities in Michigan, Detroit had the lowest jobs-to-unemployed ratio, with just 15 new job openings per month for every 100 unemployed residents in 2019. The ratio was similarly low in the tri-county area (Wayne, Macomb, Oakland), with only 21 new job openings per month per 100 unemployed Tri-County residents. This suggests that job competition was significant for unemployed Detroiters even if they were willing to travel a longer distance for employment.
  • Low demand for workers without a bachelor’s degree and those in lower-skill occupations drove the low job-to-unemployed ratio in Detroit. While there were only eight new job openings per month for every 100 unemployed Detroiters without a bachelor’s degree, there was one new job opening available for every unemployed Detroiter with a bachelor’s degree.
  • The uneven supply of and demand for low-skill work in the metro region was only in part a result of spatial mismatch. While improvements in transportation are needed to better facilitate matches, the region also needs to increase the total number of job opportunities.
  • The digital knowledge gap (ability to use a computer) may prevent 45% of unemployed Detroiters from accessing 72% of opportunities in the city of Detroit and 66% of the job openings in the tri-county area.
  • Driver’s license and auto insurance requirements may prevent 22% of unemployed Detroit residents from 25% of the job openings in both the city and in the tri-county area.
  • State occupational licenses could prevent nearly all unemployed Detroiters from 27% of the job openings in the city and 25% of the job openings in the tri-county area.
  • Physical activities such as walking or standing may prevent 5% of the unemployed Detroiters from 39% of the job opportunities in the city and 45% of job postings in the tri-county area. Furthermore, one-quarter of the labor force dropouts in Detroit (not working and not seeking employment either) have reported physical disability, and the high physical demand of available jobs may deter them from re-entering the labor force altogether.

Download a PDF of full the working paper