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Commentary: A new report lays bare Detroit’s economic inequities. It’s up to us to act.


Detroit Future City, a longtime Kresge partner, recently released The State of Economic Equity in Detroit, a comprehensive data report outlining the deep disparities and systemic inequality that persist in Detroit and the region, and proposing recommendations that will provide a path to prosperity for all residents in Detroit and the region. This commentary is adapted from Wendy Lewis Jackson’s report foreword. This Thursday, June 24, Detroit Future City will hold its second equity forum to dive into the report findings and preview an interactive economic equity dashboard will track progress over time.  With featured speakers Darrick Hamilton, Ph.D.  and Andre Perry, Ph.D. , this will be a perfect opportunity for community discussions on how to turn the report findings into needed policy changes. Learn more about the forum and register here.

Many of us have long worked with the belief that Detroiters as a group possess the resilience needed to face our challenges. We have worked with the belief that we possess the ingenuity to find the “solve.” This is the report that we’ve been waiting for, a wake-up call for those who need waking, a pathway to catalyze public and private sector leaders who are ready to embrace a new model for economic mobility based on fairness and opportunity.

The pandemic laid bare inequities 400 years in the making, deeply embedded in the design of our institutions, laws, and systems. Today, at one end of the economic spectrum, the wealthiest increasingly garner the gains, while at the other, low wages are a given. For all but the wealthiest, economic life becomes more and more precarious; for the poor, poverty becomes ever more a trap. For families of color, the burdens are all the more extreme.

What Detroit Future City’s new Center for Equity, Engagement, and Research has given us is the most comprehensive and sophisticated compilation ever of data to track economic equity — which is to say, economic inequity — across the region. This report equips community leaders with the data to inform solutions for inclusive growth and prosperity. Here we can see why the cause of economic justice must be elevated to an immediate imperative.

Among the findings:

  • Inequities in income for Detroiters, as well as systemic barriers to growing wealth, are paramount and largely due to disparities in education and employment, barring residents from opportunities to enter the middle class and achieve economic equity.
  • In 2010, there were 22 neighborhoods in the city that met the definition of “middle class”; by 2019 there were only 11 such neighborhoods.
  • African American Detroiters’ median income — $33,970 — has only increased by 8 percent in the last 10 years, while white Detroiters’ income has increased by 60 percent.
  • More than half the city’s residents are housing cost-burdened, meaning over 30 percent of their income goes toward housing cost.
  • Contributing factors to these disparities can be traced to early education outcomes and education attainment in the city where 16% of African American third graders are proficient in English Language Arts compared to 31% of white third graders. Additionally, only 17 percent of Detroiters have a bachelor’s degree.

Now is our time to redouble our efforts to build an economy that works for all Detroiters. An economy in which everyone can benefit and fully participate regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or geography.

Now is our time to tap into the potential of Detroiters who have in the past been locked out of prosperity, so we can all share in the benefits of a more equitable and inclusive region.

Now is our time to join Detroit Future City and embrace the bold, innovative policy ideas that can transform systems and institutions in our city and region.