Michigan loses population for second consecutive year, but Detroit refuses to concede that it has, too
Question 1): The number of people living in Michigan slipped for the second consecutive year, according to new census data released a couple of weeks ago.
The state lost 3,391 residents, or 0.03%, from a year earlier to 10,034,113 on July 1, 2022. Michigan was one of 18 states that saw population decline (actually we were 17th out of 50 states in population loss). In total, Michigan has roughly 40,000 fewer residents since the decennial census in 2020 when the population reached 10.077 million.
Population growth has been slowing for years in the U.S., markedly since the mid-2010s. Fewer people are having babies, and an aging population means more people are dying and international migration has been declining (in Michigan, though, immigration is the only way we’re gaining people, although not as many as we used to — only 18,812 this past year). COVID-19 hasn’t helped, either.
Population estimates are based on several factors, including births, deaths, and migration patterns. The Detroit Free Press recently noted that Michiganders are dying at higher rates and having fewer babies — leading to a natural decrease in population for the second straight year. Michigan is one of two dozen states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, that had more deaths than births, according to the latest data.
Every year from 1900 to 2019, Michigan had more births than deaths – that includes the Great Depression, both world wars and the years post-Baby Boomer. But in both 2020 and 2021, Michigan has lost more of its residents to death than it gained via births, per new data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition, more people left the state than moved in, a net loss of 8,482 residents. We’re an “out-migrant” state. Demographer Kurt Metzger observes that we’ll never be able to reverse course unless we get more people to move here. Of course, that formula works only if we also arrest the flow of Michiganders who want to ‘get out.’
Nationwide, the population increased by 1.2 million people (0.4%) to roughly 333.3 million residents, an indication of early recovery from the record-low population growth the country faced the year prior (0.1%). States that grew the fastest were Florida, South Carolina, and, uh, Idaho? (go figure).
Sun Belt states like Florida continue to add residents.
A demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau notes that, while Florida has often been among the largest-gaining states, this was the first time since 1957 that Florida has been the state with the largest percent increase in population. Other Sun Belt states continue to attract people from much of the country, not only Florida but also Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Arizona adding nearly 1 million people combined in the year.
Meanwhile, Rust Belt states like Michigan are still declining. New York had the biggest drop, losing nearly 1 percent of its population — over 180,000 people. Not just Michigan but also Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Illinois and even California combined for a nearly 1 million person loss to other states.
Michigan was the only state to lose population from 2000 to 2010 but gained from 2010 to 2020, rising above 10 million people.
The questions are, why has this been happening for such a long time? Can these grim trends be stopped? And does it matter if they are not? Actually, Michigan is still one of the dozen largest states in the country, and our land mass ranks about the same — in other words, we’re relatively well-balanced between size and population. Maybe we’ve reached critical mass. Perhaps we’re positioned where we should be, or NOT.
Answer 1): We can’t blame it on Michigan weather.
Yes, we’re slightly wetter and colder than most states, and we get more snowfall than we might — but not outrageously so. In fact, we rank 32nd among the 50 states in rainfall, with an average of 32.9 inches annually. In snowfall, we rank 11th, with 51.5 inches. Our 44 degree Fahrenheit average mean temperature isn’t among the top half-dozen coldest; we’re 10th.
Fact is, most of the other states that are also hemorrhaging population have a locale and climate about the same as Michigan’s, or worse. What’s been happening has been accelerating for half a century at least, i.e., the national move southward from the Frostbelt, whether it’s Northeast, Midwest or West.
Is it politics? Hard to make that case, too. Since 1948 — when Michigan was cresting in population relative to the rest of the country (we were the seventh biggest state, and Detroit was the fifth biggest city) and G. Mennen (Soapy) Williams was elected governor, Democrats have held the governorship for 34 years, Republicans 40. The state House had a Democratic majority for 32 of those years, Republicans for 40, with one session (1993-94) in a 55-55 “shared power” tie. The state Senate was more lopsided, with the GOP in charge for 63 years, Democrats only 11 — but everybody knows a single legislative chamber doesn’t dictate policy in the state capital. Congress? Hard to argue that Michigan’s U.S. House and Senate delegation alone could make a difference in the state’s living environment, but for what it’s worth the scorecard shows 46 years where the Republicans had an edge in the state’s D.C. group and 24 in which Democrats dominated during the same 1948-2022 period (the last four years were a 7-7 tie). In sum, neither political party deserves the blame for failing to ensure Michigan has been up to speed compared with the rest of the country.
So it all comes down to the auto industry, in which Michigan once had a monopoly but, over the past half-century, nowhere near as much. We’re still a major player, but most car manufacturing today occurs elsewhere, be it in the U.S. or overseas — thus the hollowing out of the populations of Detroit, Flint and other mid-size cities. Other Frostbelt/Rustbelt states don’t even have that excuse for faltering in the population sweepstakes.
Bottom line: Economist Don Grimes at the University of Michigan says that if this long-term trend of stagnant or declining population continues in Michigan, it will hurt our economy.
Grimes anticipates declines over the next few years before modest increases, with the state peaking at about 10.5 million in 25 years.
With an aging population and without substantial growth, it could be a big problem for the state’s employers in all sectors of the labor market, according to Grimes, who estimates the state will consistently have more deaths than births by 2050.
“Firms are going to have an extraordinarily hard time finding workers,” Grimes said at a recent economic conference. “We’re going to have a population growth problem.”
The U.S. Census estimates are through this past July 1, which should mean that, barring a surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the impact of the pandemic should decrease even more next year. Over 64 percent of this year’s COVID-19 nearly 9,000 deaths occurred before July.
Question 2): Could it be possible that Detroit has actually gained population over the past year while Michigan as a whole has lost people? Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan apparently thinks so, because his city has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau charging that Motown was under-counted in the latest estimates. If he’s right, it would be the first time in seven decades that Detroit has grown in population.
The Bureau claims Detroit lost 7,150 residents in the past year. It estimates the city’s current population is now 632,464, which would rank 27th among all U.S. cities (Detroit was as high as fifth most populous in 1950, with roughly 1.85 million residents). It’s nearly 66% smaller than it was 70 ago. It has shrunk 33% just since the year 2000. It lost 10.5% in the last decade.
But Duggan insists the city has grown, at least in the last year. He’s suing the Bureau because he says the federal agency suddenly announced that it will no longer accept challenges to its counts, so litigation is the mayor’s only recourse. He notes the Bureau has admitted it under-counted Motown’s African-American population by 3.3% in 2020, and its Hispanics by 5%. That would amount to 20,000 people.
Why does all this matter? Because Detroit loses $5,000 in federal and state money (Medicaid, food stamps, foster care, and education stipends) for every person who is not counted.
Detroit has lost population recently not because of ‘white flight’ but because its black population dropped from 586,000 to 500,000 in the 2010-2020 decade. Detroit may be the largest U.S. city with a majority African-American population, but it’s no longer the highest-percentage black city — Gary, Indiana, and Jackson, Mississippi, have passed it. An estimated 84% of Detroit is black or Hispanic. Some 86% of its neighborhoods are considered “challenging” in any effort to count citizens, according to the Bureau.
There have been many unsuccessful challenges by Detroit mayors to alleged “under-counts” in Motown in the past, although not in federal court. Why should Duggan now pursue this course of action? What are his chances of success?
Answer 2): Nothing ventured, nothing gained. What does Duggan have to lose, except maybe some legal fees funded by taxpayers? Besides, Duggan has a special reason to appeal — he wants to find some way to deliver on a campaign promise he made long ago which has been spectacularly unfulfilled. Back in 2013, when he was first elected, Duggan declared that he would be a failure as mayor if he had not plugged the city’s population drain by the end of his first term. He didn’t get the job done, and he failed again in his second term. And now he’s failed for the first half of his third term. For all its vaunted downtown “rebirth,” Detroit has lost population every year Duggan has been mayor, albeit at a slower pace than had occurred in the late Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. Amazingly, not a word has been noted about any of this from the star-struck Metro Detroit media. Maybe Duggan believes that if he can show that he reversed the erosion for ONE YEAR in his 10th year in office that he can declare success. It’s a little like the late U.S. Senator George Aiken’s famous comment about America’s disastrous venture in Vietnam: “Just declare victory and go home.”