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Is the American Dream alive in Detroit? New report details economic inequities facing many residents

Posted at 6:18 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 19:51:51-04

Is the American Dream alive in Detroit? A new report finds it appears to be out of reach for many.


The Detroit Future City report recently released compiles data aiming to help everyone understand why Detroiters are being hit hard by economic inequities in the region.

“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,” reads the report.

When you look at what the report has to say about children, educational experts say there is a red flag for our future that no one should ignore. It takes a look at the disparities when it comes to literacy rates.

“In Detroit, third-grade English and language arts proficiency levels are substantially lower than across the region and state. In 2019, only 17% of the city’s third-graders were proficient or advanced in English and language arts, compared to 43% in the region,” it reads.

“What I am worried about is what comes next September,” said Maria Adams-Lawton.

Adams-Lawton is a retired teacher who runs a literacy and learning pod program at the Tindale Rec Center. It works with the Skillman Foundation. She says she believes kids are falling further behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result she is especially concerned that the findings of the report just released by Detroit Future City don’t show just how bad it is.

“No learning can take place without a focus on relationships and the well-being of kids, families and the adults who serve them,” said Punita Thurman, Vice President of Program and Strategy at Skillman Foundation.

Thurman, who is also on the Governor’s K-12 Literacy Commission says the message she sees as important from the Detroit Future City Report is that literacy is only going to be addressed if other issues are addressed. After all literacy affects learning, which affects job opportunities, which affects earnings. This is key, because the report also found that from 2010 to 2018 Detroit went from 22 middle class neighborhoods down to 11 middle class neighborhoods. There are racial disparities when it comes to who is falling behind.

The State of Economic Equit... by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

“We saw that African American Detroiters’ income increased 8% in the last 8 years while white Detroiters’ income increased 60%, and some of that is from people moving into the city,” said Ashley Clark, Director of Center of Equity, Engagement and Research at Detroit Future City.

“As a city we are fortunate to have that data available to us,” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, the Group Executive of Jobs, Economy & Detroit at Work in the City of Detroit.

She works to bring companies and jobs to the city- and connect Detroiters with them. She says the city has been focused on fighting poverty and has decreased the number of people below the poverty line. She says Amazon, the automakers and others are bringing jobs to Detroit. After seeing the report she wants people looking for jobs to know about Detroit at Work. She says it can help connect Detroiters with open positions with middle class incomes.

“So it is not just about attracting new employers. It is about recognizing opportunities that are here already,” said Sherard-Freeman.

The Detroit Future City report listed ways to improve economic equity in Detroit. Strategies include improving education levels, increasing middle-wage jobs, improving access to affordable health care and more.

“To advance economic equity, this is something that we collectively as a community need to be working on. There's a role for employers, there's a role for the private sector, there's a role for the school system, there's a role for nonprofits, advocates, grass roots organizations,” said Clark.