By Donald James
Detroit Future City (DFC), a non-profit think tank, policy advocacy, and data-driven organization created to build a better future for Detroiters, recently published a 12-page research report which chronicles the horrific effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the City of Detroit and its population, which is overwhelmingly African American.
Titled COVID-19: Future Resilience Demands Greater Equity Today, the report, although compact in volume, provides valuable data-based information that’s eye-opening and confirms African Americans are disproportionately infected and dying of COVID–19.
As of May 27, African Americans accounted for 31% of COVID cases in Michigan, yet black people are 14% of the state’s population. Hispanics represent 7% of COVID cases in Michigan, while representing 5% of the population. In Detroit, where African Americans are 77% of the population and Hispanics 8%, there has been almost 11,000 cases of the Coronavirus reported.
Statistics aside, the report centers on the enormous and destructive instability the pandemic has caused – and will continue to cause for African Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants in Detroit – unless actionable strategies and meaningful policy changes are implemented immediately and on a grand scale. While there are multiple areas of concern that have hindered the advancement of Detroiters to reach and sustain equality, the authors of the DFC’s research report chose to focus on four key areas that must be addressed immediately: providing for Detroiters’ physical health; poverty and housing instability; education and the Internet gap; and employment and entrepreneurship. Each area listed is accompanied by short policy considerations by DFC, which the organization believes will address and potentially solve serious conditions in Detroit, America’s blackest major city.
Providing for Detroiters’ physical health – DFC’s data show Detroiters have numerous underlying health conditions such as asthma and diabetes at rates higher than other areas in the state and across America. Such conditions have greatly contributed to the higher rates of illness and death caused by COVID-19. With 58% of Detroiters living in medically underserved areas, the COVID pandemic has taken a steeper toll when compared with white communities in America. The DFC report calls for better “physical health policy considerations” to include the immediate development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to health care. Options gleaned from the report include adopting impactful forms or models of universal health care, complete with government investments. In addition, to combat COVID-19, the workplace must make better provisions when employees are sick and need to stay home or seek medical care without risking financial or other penalties. Paid time off during such health issues is a policy consideration stated in the report.
Poverty and Housing Instability – Detroit’s poverty rate continues to be high, with around 33% of Detroiters living below the federal poverty level. The rippling effect of poverty, according to the report, hampers people from gaining access to an array of basic needs and services, inclusive of quality housing. The report offers policy considerations, such as the adoption of stronger housing policies to stabilize neighborhoods and make available housing options for various income levels. The report also champions stronger and long-term policies to protect against evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic.
Education and the Internet gap – With online learning becoming more prevalent in Detroit schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students will be left behind because of their lack of connectivity to the internet. The report offers the following policy considerations: The Internet must be viewed as a utility necessary to households. It can no longer be considered a luxury or amenity. While steps are being taken to provide tablets and internet access to city students – public and charter – by such organizations as The Connected Futures Project, more organizations and funding sources must be identified to help city students be able to learn online from home.
Employment and Entrepreneurship – For decades, Detroiters have faced employment challenges and roadblocks for various reasons, with considerable gaps in employment for African Americans. The DFC report states even before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 60% of working-age Detroiters were employed, which DFC says is 14 percentage points lower than similar working adults in the region. DFC’s policy considerations include developing and advancing a more robust support system to encourage entrepreneurs of color to gain better access to capital, along with an ongoing support system for growth. And, as businesses begin to reopen amid the pandemic, there is the potential that many small businesses may ultimately fold, impacting thousands of employees. One DFC policy consideration is that systems be put in place to ensure that all businesses continue to grow, with equitable and inclusive treatment to all.
While it’s impossible to capture the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Detroit and its large African American population in a 12-page report, DFC’s findings are stark reminders that much more work has to be done to create, implement, deliver, and evaluate sweeping changes that are equitable to underserved populations across wide sectors of the city.
In conclusion, the COVID-19: Future Resilience Demands Greater Equity research report offers an informative snapshot of data and narratives to describe the state of Detroiters in the COVID-19 era. The report also offers short glimpses into what can be achieved for underserved Detroiters through actionable and policy changing strategies facilitated by dedicated stakeholders and change agents in the areas of physical health, poverty and housing instability, education and the Internet gap, and employment and entrepreneurship. As DFC states in its report, each of these issues are interrelated and interdependent. However, addressing one issue without tackling the others will deepen and widen the challenges faced by Detroiters every day and everyway as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To read the complete DFC’s research report or learn more about the organization’s mission and vision for building a better future for Detroit, log on to www.detroitfuturecity.com.