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Contact: Alex Rossman

Michigan’s economic “recovery” still dependent on zip code, skin color

LANSING—Data released by the United States Census Bureau today shows that Flint and Detroit have the highest poverty rates of comparable cities in the United States and that Michiganians of color are struggling, issues the Michigan League for Public Policy has been working hard to address.

Detroit’s poverty rate of 39.8 percent and Flint’s poverty rate of 40.8 percent were the highest in the nation for cities of their size. Flint’s median income for 2015 was $25,342, and Detroit’s was $25,980, both less than half of the statewide median household income.

For 2015 statewide, Michigan’s median household income increased 2.4 percent from 2014 to $51,084. The state’s overall poverty rate dropped .4 percent to 15.8 percent and the child poverty rate dropped from 23.7 percent to 22.4 percent. These figures are slightly higher than the national poverty rates of 14.7 percent overall and 20.7 for children.

“Michigan’s economic improvement is in the eye of the beholder and too many people in our state are still not seeing any relief,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Reducing poverty and improving incomes for Detroit and Flint residents and people of color will benefit all of our communities and businesses. Talking about these geographic and racial disparities is a start, but the real need is for quick and thoughtful action by lawmakers to doing something about them.”

For poverty, today’s Census data reinforced the continued racial disparities in Michigan. Across Michigan in 2015, the poverty rates for people of color were: 32.9 percent for Blacks or African-Americans, 25.2 percent for American Indians or Alaskan Natives, 23.8 percent for Hispanics or Latinos and 14.9 percent for Asians. These were all higher than the 12.3 percent poverty rate for Whites in Michigan.

The median income for Whites in Michigan in 2015 was $54,775, nearly $4,000 more than the state’s overall median income. For Hispanics/Latinos, the median income was $13,000 less than whites at $41,844. For Blacks/African-Americans, it was even worse, with a median income of $31,099, more than $23,000 lower than Whites.

With the lead poisoning disaster in Flint and the physical and fiscal conditions of Detroit Public Schools, the League took an in-depth look at Michigan’s Cities in Crisis and made policy recommendations to state government on how to support Flint, Detroit and other cities.

Today’s Census data reinforces the need to also take action on statewide policies lawmakers can pass to reduce poverty and improve economic equity for all include:

  • Working to make college more affordable, especially for older workers and individuals raising families;
  • Eliminating the asset limit for food assistance;
  • Enacting earned sick leave for all workers;
  • Improving investment in child care, education and state support services; and
  • Restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and expanding the federal EITC to low-wage workers not raising children.


The Census released data earlier this week on healthcare coverage, which was a significant bright spot for Michigan. Thanks to Medicaid expansion through the Healthy Michigan Plan and other healthcare reforms, 475,000 more Michiganians had health insurance in 2015. That was a 44% drop in the number of Michigan residents without health insurance from 2013. But despite the Healthy Michigan Plan’s continued success, state lawmakers cut outreach funding in the 2017 budget that stands to hurt the program’s efforts.

The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

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