(Photo by Damon Adams)

Up to 43 percent of Detroiters may have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently, during the coronavirus pandemic that began in mid-March, according to a survey of 1,102 Detroit residents performed by the University of Michigan. 

The survey attempts to gauge how real the physical threat of Covid-19 has been for Detroiters and how many now face financial peril as businesses slowly reopen and social distancing rules ease.

Catching the deadly virus has been a very real concern for a majority of Detroiters, particularly African-Americans. The survey found 53 percent of Detroiters know someone who has been sickened with the infectious coronavirus. More than one third of Deroiters surveyed, 38 percent, know someone who has died from Covid-19. 

Black residents are nearly four times as likely to know someone who has died from the virus as white residents, the U-M survey found. 

The latest numbers by city officials show a total of 10,615 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Detroit, and 1,301 residents have died from the virus.  

While the number of confirmed cases and death has dropped sharply in the past four weeks, the economic fallout is now emerging. 

The city’s jobless rate may now be as high as 48 percent, the U-M survey said. 

That’s twice the statewide unemployment rate and more than three times the national unemployment rate. The latest official jobless rate for the city of Detroit was 9.8 percent in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“While these job losses are staggering, we likely won’t know the full weight of the pandemic for some time,” said Lydia Wileden, one of the authors of the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. 

“Two-thirds of those newly unemployed report they have been temporarily laid off or furloughed from their jobs, but only time will tell if their positions and their employers actually come back” Wileden said.  

It was the middle of March when the threat of the virus emerged in Detroit. By the end of March, the city’s death and infection rate had skyrocketed. On March 24, the city and state went into “stay home, stay safe” existence. The U-M survey was taken during.April 23 and May 7.

This week the state is now allowing Michiganders to gather in groups of up to 10 people, as the spread of the coronavirus continues to slow. And retail businesses can reopen, as well as auto dealerships by appointment, starting this week. Retail businesses that reopen can have up to 10 customers inside at any time.

“We got to get folks back to work.” – Mayor Mike Duggan

Detroit Mike Mike Duggan said the city is moving as quickly as it can to open businesses in a safe manner.

“We got to get folks back to work,” Duggan said Friday.  He noted the FCA Mack Engine plant reopened last week. “We have another number of announcements for jobs coming to this city. I’m fighting for jobs every single day, We’re going to pitch in together and dig out as quickly as we can without jeopardizing the health of our residents,” Duggan said.

The city usually has a higher unemployment rate than the state. The pandemic has hit Detroiters harder because job losses are higher among those with lower incomes  and less education, said Jeffrey Morenoffm, director of the Population Studies Center at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

“We are seeing disparities in income levels,” play out in terms of job loss, he said. Over two-thirds, 68 percent , of Detroiters who are still employed with a household income of at least $60,000 a year are able to work primarily at home. Only 4 percent of people who are still employed with a household income of less than $30,000 can work from home, the survey found. 

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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