News and analysis from The Center for Michigan •
©2015 Bridge Michigan. All Rights Reserved. • Join us online at

Original article URL:

Guest commentary

Wayne County’s economy is doing better than you think

(courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

(courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

There has been an unrelenting dose of bad news in local newspapers and on national television about the city of Detroit’s financial difficulties, but one measure of business establishment employment in Wayne County is showing relatively healthy growth.

And if the city of Detroit gets its financial problems under control, there is reason to believe that Wayne County and the city of Detroit will look a lot better, economically speaking, in a few years.

The job losses during the Great Recession, and the job gains during the economic recovery in both Wayne County and the U.S. overall are shown in the attached table.  (Comparable employment data are not available for sub-county units like the city of Detroit so we need to look at countywide employment trends.)  The recession began in December 2007, and officially ended in June of 2009, although job losses continued for a few more months. Thus, I am measuring the recession from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009.

During 2008, private sector employment declined by 5.5 percent, and in 2009 by an additional 7.5 percent, so that over the two-year period private sector employment declined by 81,118.

Private sector employment in the county grew by 1.6 percent during 2010 (fourth quarter 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2010), exceeding the U.S. growth rate of 1.1 percent. During 2011, private sector employment increased by 4.3 percent in Wayne County, absolutely trouncing employment gains in the U.S. of 1.9 percent, although no one seemed to have noticed how good the county’s job recovery was in 2011. During 2012, employment growth in the county slowed to 1.9 percent, slightly trailing U.S. employment growth of 2.3 percent.

Donald Grimes a senior research area specialist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

Donald Grimes a senior research area specialist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

Over the three-year period from the fourth quarter of 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2012, private sector employment in Wayne County increased by 44,855 or 8 percent compared to 5.4 percent in the U.S. overall.  So over the three-year job recovery period, private sector employment has grown substantially faster in Wayne County than in the U.S. overall. Where is the headline trumpeting this good news?

Perhaps more remarkable is that when you look at a different data set generated by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that looks at annual average employment back to 1969, you can see that Wayne County’s private sector wage and salary employment performance never exceeded the U.S., until 2010.

Not in a single year before 2010 did private sector employment grow faster or decline less in Wayne than in the United States overall.  Yet Wayne has beaten the U.S. in two out of the last three years, and is only slightly trailing the U.S. in the most recent year.

While the manufacturing sector has led Wayne County’s economic resurgence, beating U.S. employment growth rate in each of the past three years, the private non-manufacturing sector has also exceeded the average U.S. rate in two out of the past three years.  All of the efforts to bring “knowledge economy” jobs to Wayne County and the city of Detroit may be beginning to bear fruit.  It is however, a very skimpy harvest so far – we have a long, long way to go before Detroit and Wayne County look like other major urban areas.

Indeed, even if this recent employment growth continues it will take years for Wayne County to regain all of the jobs lost in the Great Recession.  Furthermore, the county will probably never regain most of the jobs lost prior to 2007. There is still a lot of economic pain in the city and county and we cannot forget that.

Most importantly, the good news this data tell does not mitigate the hard and painful actions the city of Detroit and other local governments in Wayne County must take to deal with their budget shortfalls.

Government employment in Wayne County has declined drastically in each of the past five years, and yet local government financial crisis has only gotten worse. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is correct in saying that the city of Detroit (and by extension other local governments) needs to stop or at least substantially slow down the cuts in government services. That means that most of the financial adjustment must come from creditors, both bondholders and retirees.

But the data indicate that the prospects for employment growth in the private sector in Wayne County, relative to the U.S., are the best they have been in over 40 years. Thus, once the local government financial problems are brought under control, Wayne County’s economy could have a much brighter future.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

No comment yet.Add mine!

Leave your comment...

Your email address will not be published.

Currently on Bridge

An Earth Day pitch: When you hang up the phone for good, toss it the right way

Michigan’s roads affect everyone, so a 'yes' vote on Proposal 1 makes sense

‘Diplomacy Begins Here’ conference aims to illuminate international relations

What NOT to post on Facebook: Jokes about prison rape, when you’re in charge of preventing prison rape

A program to give young offenders a second chance is sending many to prison

Similar accounts in teen prison rape suit pose challenge to state's defense

‘New fish’ ‒ One teen inmate’s account of sexual assault

Early learning summit in June could impact Michigan’s children

Money Smart Week: Be penny wise, and pound savvier

Plan B or no Plan B, here’s what happens if road proposal fails

The political tale behind the selling of Proposal 1

A Bridge primer: Untangling the pothole promise of Proposal 1

Who supports, and opposes, Proposal 1

Let's rebuild Michigan through its greatest asset: its water

Could a public boarding school model work in Detroit?

Coalition supporting Detroit schools a step in the city’s road back

Chasing fads? Today’s schools are struggling too much for that

For one Michigan legislative staffer, an hour or two in the spotlight

A cull is a kill, and it’s an overreaction to deer ‘problem’

Lack of college guidance keeps poor and rural students from applying

Those who can, do – and get their hands ‘dirty’ in the process

For one Detroit mom, a complicated path to employment

Detroit by the numbers – the truth about poverty

Michigan should require dental screening for all children entering kindergarten

Where in the world is the Center for Michigan?

After two years, hard to call ACA anything but a success

Bridge’s Academic State Champs emphasizes all the wrong measurements

A graying population poses challenges for Up North counties

Up North, isolation impedes health care for seniors

Enbridge oil pipes and the Straits of Mackinac: Too risky to ignore

Not bigger government, but better services when Community Health and Human Services merge

Two Michigans gaze across a widening gap

In northern counties, workers and business find each other lacking

Hidden poverty stalks a Pure Michigan setting

Postcard: How a git-’er-done spirit helps one rural school district

Postcard: When elk is for dinner

Postcard: Luxe life at Bay Harbor reflects changing economy

Postcard: A roof and a bed

Invest in non-partisan journalism.

Donate to The Center for Michigan. Find out why.