Census shocker: Detroit’s population falls to 713,000

Detroit News
News - Local DetroitMarch 22, 2011

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Jim Lynch, Leonard M. Fleming and Ron French, Detroit News staff writers

Detroit's population fell to 713,777 in 2010, its lowest level in a century, according to U.S. Census figures released today.

The loss of 238,270 residents since 2000 is a sobering statistical stamp on a decade's worth of job losses, plant closings and foreclosures in a city that was home to 1.8 million residents in 1950. Detroit's nearly 25 percent decline in population was the most by far among the top 20 cities, with only Chicago showing a population loss of 6.9 percent.

It's the largest 10-year drop in Detroit's history, including the years after the 1967 riots.

The numbers follow Census figures released in December that show Michigan was the only state to lose residents since 2000, falling 54,000 to 9,883,640. Michigan is set to lose one of its 15 congressional seats.

"The census figures clearly show how crucial it is to reinvent Michigan," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. "It is time for all of us to realign our expectations so that they reflect today's realities. We cannot cling to the old ways of doing business. This is why my administration has aggressively laid out an agenda based on fiscal discipline, meaningful tax reform and regional cooperation."

Mayor Dave Bing declined comment to reporters at a noon gathering at the GM Renaissance Center, but has scheduled a 4:15 p.m. press conference. At the turn of the century, Detroit ranked 11th among the nation's largest cities. As of today, it is 18th, behind cities including Charlotte, N.C., Fort Worth, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.

For many, it was a drop of unexpected proportions. Even professional demographers were stunned by the scope.

Reynolds Farley, professor emeritus and research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at theUniversity of Michigan,thought he'd misheard Detroit's population figure when first told by The Detroit News.

"I'm glad you told me to sit down," Farley said. "I expected it to be a little over 800,000," Farley said. "With all of Michigan losing jobs, that affects the Detroit Metro area. But that's surprisingly low."

Kurt Metzger, demographer and director of Data Driven Detroit, called the drop "unbelievable." He said the housing crisis of a few years ago likely prompted Detroiters to flee to the inner-ring suburbs.

Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey, who chaired the city's Census task force, said he is planning to present a resolution urging Bing to challenge the numbers.

"It may be people weren't as enthused about the process. I'm hoping the mayor will go through and challenge the numbers to find more people," Spivey said. "Some of the realities is we're not going to get the funding from the federal government (and) we may lose some seats in Lansing because of the drop in numbers."

The census numbers from Metro Detroit counties produced a mixed bag. In the past decade:

— Oakland County saw its population grow from 1,194,196 to 1,202,362.

— Wayne County's dropped from 2,061,162 to 1,820,584.

— Macomb County's population grew from 788,149 to 840,978.

— Livingston County's population grew from 156,951 to 180,967

The population loss in Detroit means less revenues and legislative clout for a city grapping with crime and education, said City Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown.

"I choose not to focus on the numbers. There's nothing we can do about them," Brown said. "We can't change them. I choose to focus on educating Detroiters that we can be a great city, a beautiful city … if managed properly."

Sixty years ago, Detroit was the nation's fourth largest city. Metzger worries that the breathtaking drop — one in four Detroiters left in one decade — will further feed the national perception of Detroit as a dying city.

"How are we going to make the city a livable place for the people who are still stuck here? Those who are left here are either stuck here or urban pioneer.. or the Latino community," he said.

Charilyn Goolsby, 45, left the city in 2009 with her 15-year-old daughter for Southfield.

Between crime, City Hall corruption, insurance costs and schools, "it just got to be too much," Goolsby said.

"Detroit just got too messy for me," said Goolsby, who is a business consultant. "I was not getting the benefits of those tax dollars. The city services are poor and I could not use the school system. And you look at the cost of living and the corruption, we had to leave."

Her husband, Conrad, 55, is a retired worker in the city's water department and still lives part-time in the home in the Boston Edison neighborhood and commutes. Charilyn Goolsby said the couple had two rental properties in the city but let them go to foreclosure because of the economy and other issues.

Even so, she said she's a "big Detroit fan" and wants the city "to be great again."

When the migration began, it was typically white families leaving Detroit for the suburbs. Soon after, middle-class African Americans found their way to several inner ring communities such as Southfield and Oak Park, as well as neighborhoods in western Oakland County.

More recently, African Americans have found homes in Macomb County in places like Warren, Roseville and Eastpointe. In 1970, just 129 of Warren's 179,246 residents were black. Now it is home to more than 14,000 African-Americans, more than 10 percent of the population, according to 2009 data.

In Eastpointe, the number of rental units leased by African-Americans jumped from 60 in 2000 to more than 1,600 in 2009.

Between 2000 and 2009, Macomb County's black community grew from 2.7 percent of the population to 8 percent.