In March 2014, HVCLC President Ian Robinson, who is also a Research Scientist in Sociology, joined with a team of five other University of Michigan scholars – Tom Weisskopf, Howard Kimeldorf, David Reynolds, Roland Zullo, and Denise Bailey — to investigate what had happened to wages, poverty and economic inequality in Washtenaw County since 2005, and where we could expect those trends to go. On March 30, 2015, the Center for Labor and Community Studies, UM-Dearborn released, “Growing Together or Drifting Apart?” What the study found was very disturbing:
- Income inequality in our county is on the rise.
- Inequality is growing not just because the well-paid have experienced more rapid pay increases, but because at least three quarters of our county’s employees have seen their “real” pay – after taking account of inflation — decline.
- This fall in real earnings has increased the share of Washtenaw County’s population who must be considered poor: in 2013, one third of workers and one quarter of households in our county did not earn enough to meet basic needs as defined in the Michigan United Way’s 2014 ALICE report.
- Unless we do things, differently, the future looks no better: 9 out the 10 fastest growing jobs currently pay too little to meet the basic needs specified in the United Way report.
The significance of these results is clear: Past policies have worked for some, but they have failed far too many in our community. If we want a prosperous future for our county, we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.
The trends these scholars documented are found in most if not all American communities, and they have been growing since the mid-1970s. Should we be surprised to find the same trends here in our county? Perhaps not, but with three major, high-functioning institutions of higher education, and two top-notch hospital systems, we are on the cutting edge of the new knowledge economy. Some commentators think that if we can just shift Michigan into the place where Washtenaw County already is, everything will be fine. The study demonstrates that if we did that, Michigan would be better off than it is today, but things would not be fine at all.
The report makes just two recommendations. First, that we constitute a Task Force –comprised of community organization leaders, organized labor, business, elected officials and social science researchers — to investigate how other U.S. city and county governments have responded to the same challenges. Second, that the Task Force make recommendations about what our cities and our county can and ought to do to reverse these trends. That Task Force has now been constituted. Its members (in alphabetical order) are:
Mary Jo Callan (Director, Office of Community & Economic Development, Washtenaw County)
Keta Cowan (Chief Executive Officer, Synod Community Services)
Amanda Edmonds (Mayor, City of Ypsilanti)
Chris Good (Director, Think Local First)
Jeff Harrold (Pastor, New Beginnings Community Church of Washtenaw County and Chair of Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition’s Education Action Team)
Jeff Irwin (Michigan House of Representatives, District 53)
Sean Duval (Vice-Chair, Workforce and Econ Development, Workforce Development Board; CEO of Golden Limousine)
Bob King (International President Emeritus, United Auto Workers)
Andy LaBarre (Commissioner, Washtenaw County Commission)
Rick McHugh (Staff Attorney, Midwest office, National Employment Law Project)
Yousef Rabhi (Commissioner, Washtenaw County Commission)
David Reynolds (Labor Studies Center, UM-Dearborn; Chair, Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit)
Ian Robinson (President, Huron Valley Central Labor Council; Lecturer & Research Scientist, Dept of Sociology and Residential College, University of Michigan)
Paul Saginaw (Co-Founder and Co-owner, Zingerman’s Enterprises)
Pam Smith (President, United Way of Washtenaw County)
Sandi Smith (Co-owner, Trillium Real Estate)
Chuck Warpehoski (Ann Arbor City Council & Exec Dir, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice)
UPDATE: For more about the inequality report, read Eclectablog’s take.