Living & Working in Detroit: LEHD Employment Statistics

As part of updating a presentation on regional employment patterns, we created new graphics exploring the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) data, specifically looking at changes from 2015 to 2019.


What is LEHD?

The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program is part of the Center for Economic Studies at the US Census Bureau. This program produces data and tools on employees and employers in the US which provides important local information about economies so that people can make informed decisions.

LEHD has several data products such as:

  • Job-to-Job Flows (J2J) which shows statistics on job mobility in the US.
  • Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO) which is a new set of statistics on the earnings and employment outcomes of graduates of select post-secondary institutions in the US.
  • Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) which are a set of economic indicators including employment, job creation, earnings, and other measures of employment flows, based on firm characteristics (geography, industry, age, size) and worker demographics.
  • Veteran Employment Outcomes (VEO) which are statistics on Army veterans’ labor market outcomes one, five, and ten years after discharge.
  • LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) which contains origin-destination data including residence area characteristics and workplace area statistics.

In this blog we are going to focus on the LODES dataset which can tell us important details about where people live and where they work. Social and economic factors go into where jobs are located, what types of jobs there are, and who can access them. This influences opportunities available to people in the community and poses questions about how we can create equitable communities with social and economic opportunities for all. This is why the LODES data is important, it can tell us things like:

  • The location and characteristics of workers
  • The concentration of workers 
  • The direction between residence and employment locations
  • The workplace destination of workers
  • The amount of workers that enter an area for work

Anyone, regardless of their experience working with data, can create workforce related maps using this data by visiting the Census Bureau’s OnTheMap interactive mapping tool.

Where do workers live?

Using the OnTheMap tool we can find the number of Total Primary Jobs in the city of Detroit. A primary job is the highest paying job for an individual worker for the year, and the count of primary jobs is the same as the count of workers. 

In 2019, there were approximately 235,654 primary jobs in Detroit. The map shows the density of the jobs in the city based on where they were located. You can see the darker section in the city center showing a concentration of jobs. Compared to 2015 there are approximately 1000 additional primary jobs across the city. We also found more jobs toward the northwest near McNichols/Outer Drive and the North John C Lodge Freeway since 2015 as well.

Job Density


The OnTheMap tool also displays helpful characteristics in a summary report, including worker sex, educational attainment, ethnicity, race, NAICS sector, earnings, and worker age. From this data you can learn things like Health Care and Social Assistance accounts for the largest portion of jobs at 21.2% of the jobs in the city, with Manufacturing coming in second with 10.1% of jobs.

Or that 62.1% of workers make more than $3,333 per month, or even that 37.5% of workers are Black or African American which is particularly interesting to note because 78% of the population is Black or African American. 

We can also look at the inflow and outflow counts to see how many people are entering the area for work, how many stay in the area they live for work, and how many people who live in the area exit for work. In this visual we are looking at the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). It shows us that 1,585,638 workers remain in the MSA for work. Approximately 272,727 enter the area for their job and 249,292 exit the MSA for their workplace.

2019 Detroit MSA inflow/outflow of jobs

From this we can see that most of the people who live in the MSA work there as well. However when we look at the smaller geographic area of the city of Detroit, we get a different picture. The visual below shows us that only 61,943 people who live in the city remain there for work. 133,290 residents leave Detroit for their primary job, and 173,711 workers from outside of Detroit enter the city for their job.

2019 Detroit inflow/outflow of jobs

This means that of Detroit’s 234,514 primary jobs, only 25% of those jobs are held by Detroit residents; 66.9% of Detroit residents work outside the city limits.

We see this trend in other Michigan cities as well. Like in Warren, Michigan where 81,880 (90.1%) of workers enter the city for work, 9,028 (9.9%) of residents work in the city, and 50,906 (84.9%) of residents leave the city for work. Even Grand Rapids has a similar phenomenon, having an inflow of 93,084 (75.7%), with 29,959 (24.3%) residents working in the city they live, and the majority of residents, 58,182 (66.0%), working outside of Grand Rapids.

Jobs Sprawl + Transportation barriers

Detroit is the most decentralized metro area in the US in terms of jobs. In the late 1940s Detroit had 333,000 manufacturing jobs, but by 2007 there were only 23,000 in Detroit, and another 189,000 in the surrounding suburbs.

A chart showing the geographic distribution of jobs for various major US cities

In Detroit, 24,960 workers have no vehicle available as a means of transportation to work according to the 2019 American Community Survey. This means that public transit can be crucial for bridging the spatial gap between workers and jobs. In a city where the poverty rate is 40% functional transit is essential in order to connect residents with job opportunities.

Using the same data from the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program we were able to learn more about just how many Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park (DHPH) residents work in communities that have opted out of SMART.

Map showing metro Detroit communities that have opted-out of SMART transit with values of how many Detroit residents commute to work in them

As of 2011, over 10,000 DHPH residents working for lower-wage jobs commuted to cities and townships that have opted out of SMART. The greatest number of DHPH residents with earnings below $40,000 per year working in transit deserts were concentrated in an arc extending from western Wayne County north and east through central Oakland County as of 2011. This might point to the need to support reliable public transit that extends throughout the area.

This is another example of the many use cases for this origin-destination data. You can also look out for updates on this map in a future blog post.

For more information, read our blog post Uphill Both Ways: Chronicling Metro Detroit’s Transit Mismatch

Wages Mismatch

The LODES data sets include Residence Area Characteristics (RAC) and Workplace Area Characteristics (WAC) files. Since we know that a majority of Detroiters leave the city for work, using these files we pulled together a breakdown of earnings of non-residents workers inside Detroit, and Detroit residents working outside of Detroit.

Three pie charts showing earnings of Detroit residents and nonresident workers inside and outside of Detroit

From this data you can see that 70% of Nonresidents working in Detroit earn more than $3,333 per month compared to the 29% of Detroit residents who work outside of Detroit and earn the same amount. For Detroit residents who work in Detroit, this number is higher at 40%.

Across the US there has been a gap between the opportunities available for residents within their own communities, that keep people away from investments or opportunities to improve health or social mobility. Barriers to opportunities for employment or higher income, like the lack of functional public transit, perpetuate those gaps within communities. 

This data shows us that a majority of Detroit residents leave the city to work lower earning jobs. Knowing this, we can pose questions that lead us to a more equitable future like why don’t more Detroiters work in the city? For example, If job skills are a barrier then we can work to Increase job skills for residents that enhance local employment opportunities and connect Detroiters with higher paying jobs within the community. Thanks to the LODES data we can ask these questions.

If you have questions about using LEHD data or need any data collection assistance, please feel free to submit an AskD3 request.

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