Along Woodward Avenue — within the hyped version of Detroit’s comeback, in the downtown and Midtown areas — you can buy a $1,200 men’s sports coat or an $88 T-shirt. You can spend time in a hipster pub that features more than 130 types of beers at a cost of $8 per pint.
Yet, just a few blocks away, in every direction, people are living in poverty so steep that the Woodward playground for suburbanites, with its chic shops and subway-style QLine trains and elaborate sports stadiums, serve as a slap in the face to those true Detroiters struggling to get by.
In fact, while Detroit represents less than 1 percent of Michigan’s geography, the city accepts the dubious claim of including about half of the poorest ZIP codes in the state. So much for the slick PR, swallowed by countless national publications, that Motown has become America’s coolest city.ic
Thanks to a detailed study of 900 Michigan ZIP codes provided by the MLive news agency, we can see that the Detroit renaissance is pure fiction, despite what we heard from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan during his highly successful re-election campaign that culminated on Nov. 7.
How are the Motor City neighborhoods actually coping? Well, of the 30 Michigan ZIP codes ranked worst for poverty, 14 are in Detroit. These are areas where the average annual per-household income ranges from $22,000 to $32,000. While these figures, based on IRS data, do not represent median incomes, it’s probably safe to say that about half of the people living in these mail-delivery areas earn less than the disturbing income figures.
In comparison to Detroit’s downtrodden neighborhoods, households statewide reported an average income of $59,689 in income on their 2015 tax returns.
Those Detroit income figures will scare away any national retail chain looking for a new location, based on disposable income within a fairly small radius. Anyone who has observed Detroit’s deteriorated neighborhoods has seen the disturbing number of boarded-up businesses that stretch for miles.
Worse yet, the vaunted downtown/Midtown area is surrounded by poverty.
From I-75 and I-375 to the Lodge freeway, from the riverfront to beyond the New Center area, the ZIP code data shows that low-income households are everywhere. The poor are living within eye-shot of Ford Field, the MGM casino, Wayne State University and Motor City Casino. Along the prime real estate of the Detroit River waterfront, from the southwest Mexicantown section of the city to the eastside neighborhoods bordering the tony Grosse Pointes, low incomes dominate.
The MLive analysis compiled by Julie Mack also shows that vast swaths of Detroit’s far west side, plus the depleted northeast side, are also dominated by the poor and working poor.
While the poorest Michigan ZIP codes also include the Flint area, Saginaw, Hamtramck, Warren and Pontiac, those are all areas where poverty has become entrenched for decades. Detroit serves as an entirely different national story. Corporate titans like Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family are investing big bucks in a tiny section of the Motor City, but the bigger picture is ignored.
If most of the beleaguered city populace lacks income to do anything more than struggle to pay their bills, no employers that could provide jobs will move into a city where customers are scarce.
The long-term economic fate of Detroit lies not with glitzy downtown developments or quixotic attempts to land a massive Amazon headquarters but with basic, family-business entrepreneurs who will revive the city, neighborhood by neighborhood.