More than 4 in 10 Detroiters have lost jobs during pandemic

May 26, 2020
Written By:
Lauren Slagter

University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. Image credit: U-M Center for Academic InnovationDETROIT—Forty-three percent of Detroiters who were working before the COVID-19 pandemic have since lost their jobs, either on a temporary or permanent basis, according to a new University of Michigan survey.

The latest rapid-response COVID-19 survey from U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study shows how Detroiters are adapting to try to make ends meet in the face of widespread job loss and economic upheaval. The representative survey was open from April 23 to May 7.

“We found that job losses were especially prevalent among people who were earning less income before the pandemic, people with less education and people of color,” said Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of sociology and director of the Population Studies Center at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

“Even among Detroiters who are still working, 27% said their hours have been reduced since the pandemic. This loss of income takes a significant toll on people’s long-term financial security.”

Given the number of people who have lost their jobs in recent weeks, the DMACS results suggest the unemployment rate in Detroit is now 48%—twice the statewide unemployment rate and more than three times the U.S. unemployment rate.

“While these job losses are staggering, we likely won’t know the full weight of the pandemic for some time. Two-thirds of those newly unemployed report that they have been temporarily laid off or furloughed from their jobs, but only time will tell if their positions and their employers actually come back,” said Lydia Wileden, a doctoral candidate at U-M who analyzed the DMACS COVID-19 survey data.

Of the Detroiters who are still working, 43% primarily work outside their homes, 42% primarily work from home and 15% split their time between working from home and outside their homes.

The survey results show disparities by income level in terms of who faces potential health risks based on their ability to work from home: About two-thirds (68%) of Detroiters who are still employed with a household income of at least $60,000 a year work primarily at home, compared to only 4% of people who are still employed with a household income of less than $30,000.

Other key findings from the latest DMACS survey include:

  • More than half (53%) of Detroiters say they know someone who has gotten sick from the coronavirus and 38% say they know someone who has died from coronavirus. Black residents are nearly four times as likely to know someone who has died from the virus as white residents.
  • More than a quarter of Detroiters say they have worried in the past seven days that they might run out of food.
  • About 40 percent of Detroiters say the ability to interact with others has been a major challenge, more so than getting medical care, having a place to live, or accessing household supplies or transportation.
  • Roughly a quarter (27%) of residents report delaying or not paying their rent or mortgage, 48% of Detroiters report delaying or skipping payments on outstanding loans like student loans or car loans, and 28% report skipping or deferring their utility bills during the pandemic.
  • About half (49%) of Detroiters living in households with children under age 18 report they are spending more money during the pandemic, compared to 38% of those who live in households without children. Many respondents whose spending has increased during the pandemic said they are buying more food to provide meals for children who usually eat at school.


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