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Middle Class Grows More Elusive In Ann Arbor

SmartAsset, an investment advice firm, just published its most recent study of household finances. The study has the goal of defining “the middle class” based on a range of data that the US Census Bureau collects each year as part of the US Communities Survey. SmartAsset also used data that the Pew Research Center collected.

The good news is that Michigan is one of the states where it is easier for a person to get into the middle class. In Michigan, SmartAsset defines the middle class income range between $44,653 and $133,972. The bad news is that Michigan’s median household income ranks 37th among all states. In other words, if you live here, you shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money.

Worse, when you dig down into the data, there is a bit more bad news: Ann Arbor doesn’t fit Michigan’s profile. In Ann Arbor, the lower bound for the middle class is $52,488. The upper bound for the middle class in Ann Arbor is $157,480. That is 17.5% more than the state as a whole. On an hourly basis, the average Michigan household earns $32.20 per hour. The average Washtenaw County household earns $37.86 per hour.

That’s not easy to do if you’re relying on a WCC degree (or certificate). The average WCC graduate doesn’t even make the state’s median income, so it’s even less likely that a WCC graduate can remain in Washtenaw County following graduation.

As I have said in the past, this raises some very basic questions about exactly what we – as a community – are trying to accomplish by funding WCC. Because unless our goal is generating low-income households – we’re not accomplishing much, other than training people who must live elsewhere.

WCC grads can’t access Washtenaw County’s middle class

Do you wonder why there aren’t enough retail workers here? Because those retail workers need to make $25 per hour to afford to live here. Is your favorite restaurant short-staffed? Maybe it’s because their workers can’t make enough to live in Washtenaw County. Going to WCC to learn a new set of skills isn’t going to help most of them because the reward for the 28% of students who hang on long enough to finish a program is that they earn 31% less than they need to crack the middle class here.

It would be great if the WCC Board of Trustees asked some pointed questions of the WCC Administration once in a while regarding exactly what the hell the plan is. Why is the average WCC grad not making enough money to live in Washtenaw County, and what is the administration doing about it?

The important thing to remember is that the lower bound of “the middle class” rises every year. If WCC doesn’t update its programs every year to ensure that its graduates can earn enough to live in Washtenaw County, WCC will eventually reach a point where the only people who benefit from its continued operation are its Administration.

Perhaps we are already there.

Photo Credit: UN Women, via Flickr