Six Burning Questions for 2023, Revisited

We took a look back at expert predictions for last year to see if they align with what really happened in 2023.
Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

Last year wasn’t a big election year in Michigan, but there were many issues at stake. With a newly blue-majority state Legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was able to make progress on key campaign promises — repairing roads, restricting gun access, and protecting abortion rights. Here are the six burning questions we asked at the beginning of last year revisited:

Did we see a full-blown recession in 2023?

Last January, there was a lot of murkiness surrounding this question. The International Monetary Fund predicted an imminent global recession in 2023. Yet Wayne State University economics professor Michael Belzer begged to differ, telling Hour Detroit, “Unless something bad happens, I don’t personally think we’ll really get into a full recession [in 2023].”

He appears to have been right.

At publication time (December 2023), there was no recession. However, the onset of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict on Oct. 7, 2023, combined with Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, had many leading U.S. and U.K. financiers worried that the resulting instability could contribute to a recession.

Additionally, many metrics say there’s a decent possibility of a recession in 2024 — a 50 percent chance, according to event forecasting site Kalshi.

Did the pain at the pump return?

Make no mistake — 2023 was not the cheapest year for gas, but it was considerably gentler on the wallet than the previous year.

As our experts predicted last January, Michigan gas prices did not return to 2022 highs. When we pulled prices from AAA in early November 2023, the state average was $3.44 for a gallon of unleaded gas. That’s down about 79 cents from the same time in 2022, a year in which prices reached a record-breaking high of $5.22 per gallon.

Was there any movement on red flag gun laws?

At the start of 2023, the passage of red flag gun laws seemed possible — new research had been published that showed these types of laws were effective, and Michigan’s House and Senate had a blue majority following the previous November election.

Then, in February, a mass shooting took place at Michigan State University, which was yet another reminder of the feeble protections afforded to students and the general public from gun violence.

In May 2023, Whitmer signed into law three bills that place stricter limits on guns for “red flag” individuals. The laws allow firearms to be confiscated from people deemed to be an immediate threat to others or themselves via an “extreme risk protection order,” issued upon court-approved request from a police officer, health care provider, family member, or spouse.

How did Metro Detroit districts address school security?

Just as our experts predicted in January, metro Detroit schools continued to have an all-over-the-map approach to school security in 2023, when the two-year anniversary of the Oxford High School shooting fell.

For the 2023-24 school year, the state allocated a budget of $328 million for mental health and safety improvements in schools. Oxford Community Schools continued to expand on its high-security practices, including implementing a 24/7 weapon detection system, updated visitor management software, visible ID badges for staff and students in grades six through 12, more visits from weapon-sniffing dogs, and geo-fencing technology.

Elsewhere in Oakland County, the Troy School District hired its first director of safety, and both Farmington and Berkley school districts significantly increased their number of cameras and purchased new security software. More than half the school districts in Macomb County approved risk and vulnerability assessments, aimed to help pinpoint and remove risks related to school shootings, among other threats.

The vast majority of Detroit public schools have metal detectors, but this is nothing new — in the ’80s, Detroit became the first school district in the country to implement their use on a wide scale.

Did the “damn roads” get fixed?

Political consultant Jeff Timmer predicted Whitmer would have an easier time pushing through her roads agenda in 2023, thanks to a Democratic majority in the state House and Senate. However, he noted that the process of repairing Michigan’s decaying roads might take longer than a year to complete.

At the time of publication, many significant metro Detroit highway construction projects were in progress or completed. Key segments of the I-75 modernization project have been all but finished, including the new high-occupancy vehicle lane between 12 Mile Road and South Boulevard. Repairs and rebuilds are in varying degrees of progress on local segments of I-696, I-275, and I-96. An ambitious $3 billion rebuild of a large I-94 stretch in Detroit is expected to begin this spring.

Still, Michigan’s roads and bridges received D and D-plus grades, respectively, in a May 2023 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. These grades mean roads and bridges were “mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.”

While the report acknowledges that Michigan’s roadways have improved within the past five years, the state “cannot sustain progress or seriously reduce investment gaps without greater predictable funding.”

Did Michigan students bounce back from the setbacks of the pandemic?

Mirroring a nationwide trend, Michigan’s student body fell behind in academic proficiency post-2020 and has since found it hard to get back on track.

Last January, education expert Amber Arellano predicted a full recovery in 2023 was “unlikely,” and she was right — we still have quite a hill to climb in 2024.

Results from the spring 2023 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (better known as M-STEP) showed that Michigan students’ academic proficiency, across the state and across socioeconomic class lines, is still significantly down from where it was pre-pandemic. However, average test scores rose in 15 out of 20 categories between 2022 and 2023.

This story is from the January 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.