Press "Enter" to skip to content

Raising the bar on Washtenaw County’s middle class

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece about the middle class income range in Michigan. SmartAsset claims that Michigan’s middle class starts at $44,653 and ends at $133,972. The same analysis found that the middle class in Washtenaw County has a 17.5% premium. If you want to be in the middle class in Washtenaw County, you’ll need to make between $52,488 and $157,480. In a new analysis of US Census Bureau data from 2012 and 2022, GoBankingRates claims that the middle class in Michigan earns $45,670 to $137,010. When adjusted to 2024 dollars, the range is $49,012 to $147,035.

If you agree that Washtenaw County is significantly more expensive than the statewide average, the next step is to apply the special Washtenaw County coefficient to the GoBankingRates numbers. The middle class in Washtenaw County begins at $57,589 and ends at $160,987. You may have noticed that there’s no real agreement about what constitutes the middle class. However, both analyses agree that most WCC grads aren’t going to crack the middle class anytime soon.

That’s highly problematic for a place like Washtenaw County, where there is only a narrow pathway to get into the middle class. It involves spending at least four years at a fine university. That closes out the community college – the one that the taxpayers here have paid billions since 1965 to develop.

If Washtenaw Community College is going to achieve viability – and I argue that it isn’t there – we will need to invest tens of millions more dollars to reverse the damage WCC has suffered from inaction, poor decision-making, and long-term lack of oversight on the part of the Board of Trustees.

WCC Trustees traded middle class pathway for a fitness center

One needs to look no farther than the Health and Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College. The Board of Trustees agreed to divert tens of millions of dollars to the Fitness Center when the taxpayers of Washtenaw County already financed the Merri Lou Murray Recreation Center just two miles to the west.

In addition to the cost of the building itself and the financing that the Board needed to complete the project, the Fitness Center requires an inordinate amount of expensive maintenance each year. The college can’t put off this maintenance because user subscriptions would suffer. Based on the contract history on the building, maintenance can run past $1M per year. A million (or more) on the annual bonds, a million or more on the annual maintenance and capital expenses … pretty soon, it adds up.

How many new academic programs did WCC give up build the Fitness Center? How many new job opportunities and how much in economic development did it cost to duplicate the county recreation building – without a millage to support it? What WCC’s enrollment have been had the school used that money to design new programs and refurbish classrooms and laboratories? Not to mention that the stated purpose of WCC’s millage(s) was to pay for the operation of the college – not the construction and operation of a fitness center.

Fitness Center revenues have never fully offset the cost of operating the building, and they never will. Other community colleges have learned the hard and expensive truth about running recreation and fitness centers: they’re expensive and the likelihood of losing money is higher than the likelihood of making money – or breaking even.

That’s a lesson WCC’s Board of Trustees refuses to learn, and Washtenaw County is worse for it.

Photo Credit: JBLM MWR, via Flickr