Detroit unemployment rate hits 16-year low

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — Detroit’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.4 percent in April, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the city’s jobless rate hitting its lowest point since 2001.

Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated the 16-year low Thursday morning on Mackinac Island, where he is participating in an annual policy conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. He is also running for re-election against seven other candidates, including state Sen. Coleman Young, who has criticized Duggan for not helping improve job prospects in many neighborhoods outside of the city’s core.

“There’s no doubt that jobs are moving back into the city,” Duggan told The Detroit News, touting the city’s new Detroit at Work program to connect residents with open positions and training opportunities.

“We created a climate where everybody feels welcome in Detroit, and there’s a level of investment that you haven’t seen in probably 50 years.”

Detroit’s 8.4 percent jobless rate was down from 9.3 percent in April 2016. The city’s rate remains significantly higher that the statewide rate of 4.7 percent and the national average of 4.4 percent, but it has plummeted from a high of 27 percent in January 2010 during the Great Recession.

The city’s preliminary April rate dropped below 9 percent for the first time since May 2001, when it was measured at 8.3 percent and is down from 17.6 percent when Duggan took office in 2014.

Robert A. Dye, chief economist of Dallas-based Comerica Bank, said the results align with trends nationally and are a positive sign that more jobs are being created in Detroit.

“We’re seeing this not only in Detroit, but just about every major urban area in the United States. It’s an indicator that tells us the labor market conditions are generally healthier,” said Dye of the bank that covers Michigan, California, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

While the rate remains higher than the national average, he said, “it’s coming down and that’s a good thing for Detroit.”

“The city of Detroit is attracting investment,” he said. “In the downtown area you’ve got buildings being renovated, apartments filling in, businesses attracting millennials into Detroit,” he said. “That’s great. You want that to be happening.”

Detroit had a 24.9 percent jobless rate in April 2010 and it has declined every year since.

“Much of that drop in the jobless rate was due to recovery from the recession and recalls of previously laid-off workers,” said Bruce Weaver, a state employment expert.

The mayor said the new unemployment numbers are tangible proof of progress in the city.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, but it’s good every once in a while when the federal government’s statistics come out to tell you objectively, yes, you’re making progress,” he said.

Young couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

Duggan noted the planned construction of the Gordie Howe international Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, which is not expected to be completed until 2020 at the earliest. He also cited investments by Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family and development projects in the New Center and neighborhood storefronts.

The city added 964 jobs in April and roughly 1,500 jobs in March, according to Workforce Development Director Jeff Donofrio, who said the city hopes to employ 40,000 additional Detroiters in the next five years.

Donofrio said there is no silver bullet for job creation, but he noted city efforts to ease diploma verification for job seekers, training programs for health care jobs and prisoner re-entry services.