September 23, 2021

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Detroit’s population decline continues for 7th straight decade, 2020 census data shows – Detroit Free Press

3 min read
The Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit sits in the background as people walk along the Detroit RiverWalk on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

Detroit’s persistent population decline continued through the last decade, with the city’s tally of residents dropping to 639,111, a 10.5% decline, according to 2020 U.S. census data released Thursday. 

The latest decennial count leaves unbroken seven decades of losses for the state’s largest city, but the exodus has slowed compared to the breakneck pace of past decades. Population plummeted by 25% between 2000 and 2010. 

The 2020 decennial census faced unprecedented hurdles, including delays in sending staffers door-to-door during a deadly pandemic, former President Donald Trump’s decision to end census field operations early and extensive new steps taken to protect respondents’ privacy.  

“I can’t imagine any large city not questioning the results,” said demographer Kurt Metzger, who is also helping to analyze census data for the city of Detroit. “I expect thousands of appeals just because of the process.”

“There is so much potential for problems that were not the cities’ problems.”

[ Why you should care about the 2020 Census data release ]

After the last decennial census in 2010, then-Mayor Dave Bing vowed to fight the results, but the count of 713,777 stood.

Numbers from the once-a-decade count are used to divvy up nearly $1.5 trillion in federal spending and determine states’ Electoral College votes and congressional seats. 

Michigan learned in April that its slight population growth wasn’t enough to prevent the loss of a U.S. House of Representative seat. The state’s population of 10.077 million as of April 2020 was an increase of 2% from 2010. But the bump was dwarfed by the nation’s population growing more rapidly in western and southern states.

Mayor Mike Duggan, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and other Detroit lawmakers said last year that they weren’t satisfied the Bureau made “a good-faith effort” to count all Detroit residents and said they planned to challenge results.

Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said at Thursday’s press conference that the results “meet our high quality data standards” and that it is too early to speculate on possible undercounted populations.

Michigan improved its self-response rate from previous counts, ranking 8th highest in the country at 71%. But Detroit had the lowest response rate at 51% of similar large cities. Nationally the rate was 67%.

Self-response includes people who responded to the census through the mail, phone or online. Census workers followed up to count non-responders through households visits and other methods.

MORE: Michigan to lose another seat in Congress as population moves West and South

MORE: Michigan at 8th place for 2020 Census self-response, but Detroit last for large cities

Now, with the detailed county and municipal data released on Thursday, Michigan’s first-ever, citizen-led redistricting commission can begin to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative maps to make those changes, according to a mapping consultant for the commission. But it won’t be a quick process.

Even though Michigan’s constitution requires the commission to propose maps by Sept. 17 and adopt them by Nov. 1, the commission has said it will wait for tabulated data expected from the census by the end of September to begin finalizing its maps, which could, in turn, push off final adoption of the new boundaries – and set off a series of political battles – closer to the end of the year.

While the data released Thursday and the tabulated data are identical, the commission’s mapping consultant has recommended reconciling the data sets as a verification measure. The state Supreme Court, however, declined the commission’s request to proactively set a new timeline, meaning a legal battle could well ensure if and when the commission misses the Sept. 17 deadline.

Researchers and activists cite tax foreclosures as a huge driver of Detroit’s latest losses. Wayne County seized and then resold tens of thousands of homes for unpaid property taxes over the last decade, fueled in part by the 2008 housing crisis and the city’s admittedly inflated assessments. 

“After this massive bout of unjust dispossession, it is no surprise that Detroit’s population has significantly decreased,” said Bernadette Atuahene, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law who has studied foreclosure in Detroit.

Staff writers Todd Spangler and Clara Hendrickson contributed to this report.

Contact Christine MacDonald: cmacdonald@freepress.com or 313-418-2149. Follow her on Twitter: @cmacfreep

 Contact Kristi Tanner: ktanner@freepress.com or 313-222-8877.  Follow her on Twitter: @midatalove.

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