Detroit unemployment drops but those with jobs are still looking for work

More Detroiters are landing jobs in the city’s improving pandemic economy but even those who have found employment continue to look for better options.  

City officials recently celebrated U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing Detroit’s 7% unemployment rate for September was at its lowest rate since 2000. A new issue brief from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study found unemployment is declining faster for residents of color and low-income residents, though Black and Latino Detroiters are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their white neighbors. 


Detroit residents who have jobs are also looking for work, suggesting they may be underpaid. The U-M findings, based on a survey of residents between June and August, found parents, residents under the age of 40, people earning less than $30,000 and those without a college degree are more likely to be looking for new jobs. 

The survey also found three out of four unemployed Detroiters think they will return to work in the next month. The survey found 57% of unemployed Detroiters have been out of work for less than a year and 87% are actively looking for jobs. 

“The data suggest Detroit residents remain confident in the availability of jobs,” said Lydia Wileden, a U-M research associate who authored the report. “Not only are unemployed residents looking to re-engage with the workforce, but employed residents are actively seeking out better opportunities.”

The survey found women and parents are more likely to be unemployed, while those without a college degree are four times as likely to be out of work compared with Detroiters who have a degree. 

More than a quarter of Detroit residents (29%) said they’ve earned money through the gig economy, by working temporary jobs like driving for Uber or freelancing. One in 10 residents are actively doing “gig work,” while 17% of Detroiters under 40 are earning money through gig work. 

Federal data shows Detroit’s unemployment rate increased slightly to 7.2% in October, but remains down from 11% in October 2021. Data for November will be released later this month. 

The U-M report estimated Detroit’s unemployment rate is closer to 16%. Wileden said the survey data offers a more thorough picture of the local labor market compared to federal estimates. 

Either way, Detroit’s job numbers are significantly lower than the 38% unemployment rate recorded in May 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 118,696 out-of- work residents in May 2020, according to federal estimates. There are 2,233 more working Detroiters compared to before the pandemic, according to the bureau. 

Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated the progress last month, saying the jobs figures reflect the success of his administration’s workforce training programs. Detroit At Work offers skills training, entrepreneurship training and other services to create a talent pipeline to local employers. 

Dana Williams, chief strategy officer for Detroit At Work, said the city has a strong relationship with 4,000 employers to place residents into good-paying jobs. A total of 28,050 residents were employed through Detroit At Work since 2017, according to data provided by the city. 

The city placed 4,917 residents into jobs during the previous programming year, which ran between July 2021 and June 2022. Williams said the federal labor reports provide a snapshot of the employment situation in Detroit, and doesn’t tell the whole story of the ongoing recovery. 

“Data can always be interpreted in various ways,” Williams said in a November interview. “But I can just tell you that no matter what, we’ve got a very active labor market here in the city, from both the job seeker as well as the employer side.”

Meanwhile, Detroit’s recovery still lags the state as a whole. Michigan’s October unemployment rate was 3.7%, according to the bureau, a decline from 4.5% in October 2021. 

The national unemployment rate was 3.7% in November. The rate was slightly lower for white Americans (3.2%) and higher for Latino Americans (3.9%) and Black Americans (5.7%). 

Duggan also announced the launch of JumpStart, a program to help long-term unemployed residents get re-engaged in the job market. The city is seeking to partner with community groups to identify people who have been out of work and connect them to education and training opportunities. It’s funded with $36 million in federal pandemic relief from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The bureau estimated there were 17,720 unemployed Detroiters as of October. However, there are an estimated 10,000 jobs available in Detroit, according to information released during a Friday meeting of the mayor’s workforce development board. 

An estimated 10,523 Detroit residents found work between October 2021 and 2022. 

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