Detroit Future City Releases “Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class” Data Report

February 17, 2019

Detroit Future City (DFC) announced today the release of “Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class,” a comprehensive data report supporting attraction, retention and growth strategies to restore a demographic that once defined the city.  The report is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

As the city continues to experience a revitalization, “Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class” provides a benchmark through which the African-American middle class can serve as a measure to track equitable growth.

The report is a continuation of DFC’s commitment to providing accessible, data-driven strategies dedicated to moving the city forward, and stems from the 2017 release of its “139 Square Miles” report.

“In ‘139 Square Miles,’ we noted that 75 percent of Detroiters have household incomes of less than $50,000, which led us to take a deep dive into the city’s African-American middle class and how more equitable growth can lead to a brighter future for all Detroiters,” said Anika Goss, DFC’s executive director.

“Detroit’s growth and progress hinge on understanding what the city looks like now and how we might address challenges and foster opportunities. We need the data to do that. Detroit Future City’s latest report provides leaders and residents alike with information and insights that will help to guide decision-making, and help build an even better Detroit,” said Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director for Detroit.

In this report, DFC defines the middle class as those with a household income between 80 percent and 200 percent of the national median income.  This translates to households earning between $46,100 to $115,300 per year. Using this definition, 64,700 of the city’s 258,000 households are middle-class, about 25 percent. Of those middle-class households, 51,400 are African American.

Middle-class households reside in areas across Detroit but comprise a majority in only 12 of the city’s 297 census tracts, just four percent. These neighborhoods are some of Detroit’s most well-known, including parts of Grandmont Rosedale, University District, Green Acres, Sherwood Forest, Palmer Woods, Boston Edison, East English Village, Regent Park, Indian Village and a portion of Downtown.

“Growing the African-American Middle Class” sets the ambitious goal of adding 33,800 middle-class households, of all races, in Detroit to bring the city’s share of middle class in line with that of the region.  To ensure that Detroit is growing equitably, it is important that the share of middle-class African Americans is brought in line with that of the region, as well.  That would require an increase of 27,700 African-American middle-class households in Detroit.

“Increasing Detroit’s share of middle-class households is a commitment to creating opportunities to grow the existing population, retaining existing middle-class households and attracting new ones,” Goss said.

Detroit Future City provides a set of recommendations in “Growing Detroit African American Middle Class” calling on policy-makers and investors to set deliberate strategies in order to achieve goals laid out in the report.  One key recommendation is a focus on improving educational attainment for residents at the two-year certification and four-year degree level and connecting attainment to higher-wage jobs.

“Detroiters with a bachelor’s degree make less than their counterparts in the suburbs and, on average, make in income below the middle-class threshold,” Goss said. “We have identified this inequity, quantified it, and now we have to address it.”

Educational attainment and income become a factor in retention and growth in near-middle-class neighborhoods, as well. Only 12 of Detroit’s 297 census tracts meet the definition of a middle-class neighborhood, giving Detroit among the lowest share of total middle-class neighborhoods among the 50 largest U.S. cities. However, there are 91 other census tracts where 30 percent to 50 percent of the households are middle or upper middle class. Focusing on lifting households in these “near-middle class neighborhoods” to that next level of prosperity can pay big dividends for the economic growth of Detroit.

“If we want to see more black people enter the middle class, we must invest in endeavors and interventions that lead to better-paying jobs, affordable housing, efficient transportation and effective schools,” said Andre M. Perry, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution, who provided the foreword in the report based upon his research focused on race and structural inequality, education, and economic inclusion. “The focus on development must be directed at uplifting a greater percentage of current residents so that they have the necessary tools to enter the middle class.”

DFC also calls for the deliberate recruitment of African-American middle-class individuals in specific professions to help close the economic equity gap in the city and region.

“In the last 10 years, 30,000 new private sector jobs have come to Detroit, half of which pay a middle-class wage,” Goss said. “This is a good place from which we can encourage inclusive hiring, neighborhood improvement efforts and homeownership, which is a hallmark of strong middle-class neighborhoods across the country.”

“Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class” also compares Detroit’s African-American middle-class neighborhoods to other cities across the country. Of the 73,000 census tracts nationally, just over 1,000 are African-American middle class, and of those 33 are in Metro Detroit and 11 within the city of Detroit.  Among the largest 50 US cities, Detroit has the lowest share of middle-class neighborhoods, but the sixth highest share of African-American middle-class neighborhoods.

As part of the research to develop this report, DFC conducted focus groups to attain qualitative aspects of the middle class, in addition to just presenting data.  During these sessions, participants identified not only expressed their perceived challenges to living, working and raising families in Detroit, but also the attributes that they consider typical of strong middle-class neighborhoods.  In addition to neighborhood assets such as cost of living, schools, safety and key services, the focus groups indicated that homeownership signifies a stable middle-class neighborhood.

The focus groups also identified several challenges, most of which have affected Detroit for decades, but can also be seen in the suburbs.  The cost of living, specifically schools, insurance rates and taxes, was a consistent barrier mentioned by focus group participants.  Though, the report identifies that these costs are also high in inner-ring suburbs where a large number of the African-American middle class lives.

DFC was launched on the foundation of presenting accessible data about Detroit, with the 2012 release of the Strategic Framework Plan, a 50-year vision for the City of Detroit. DFC’s role is to steward the Framework and continue to release current and credible data that supports the organization’s land-use and sustainability and community and economic development priorities. In addition to “139 Square Miles,” DFC has released data on vacant industrial sites, open-space networks, transit and mobility and the rental housing market.

“Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class” is available online at www.detroitfuturecity.com.  Limited print copies are available by visiting DFC’s office at 2990 West Grand Blvd., Detroit.  Additionally, the organization has shared the report with policymakers and community and economic development organizations, locally and nationally, as well as placed the report in each Detroit Public Library.