The population loss that has defined Detroit’s decline for six decades has slowed but continues, according to U.S. Census estimates released this week. 

The Motor City also fell again in the rankings of cities by population, from 23rd to 24th. 

The population estimate comes as the city and state are in a high-stakes exercise of encouraging citizens to fill out the 2020 Census survey, which will provide the next actual count of Detroiters. 

Detroit had 670,031 residents in 2019, according to the Census estimate. That’s a decline of 2,496 compared to 2018’s population, a 0.4 percent loss. 

The Motor City’s population has plummeted since 1950,  when it was the fifth largest U.S. city with 1.8 million people. Last decade, the city lost more than 25 percent of its residents. Between 2000 and 2010, Detroit lost on average 23,700 residents every year, plunging the city’s population to 711,131. 

But since 2010, the city has halted those steep declines. From 2010 to 2019, it lost a total of  5.8 percent of its residents, or 41,100 people.  The 2010s saw a revival of downtown and a number of neighborhoods where housing prices have surged and new retail has sprouted. In 2014, Detroit’s white population had grown by 8,000 compared to the year earlier. It was the first significant increase in the white population since 1950. 

But it has not been enough to slow the overall population loss. Based on the 2019 estimate, Detroit now ranks as the 24th largest U.S. city, surpassed by Nashville. Nashville’s downtown population grew by 130% in 2019, according to a report by the Nashville Downtown Partnership. 

Experts cautioned the 2019 estimate could change after the 2020 Census count. Every 10 years, the U.S. government tries to count every person in the nation.

“Basically, the methodology is still using the 2010 Census count as the base,’” for the 2019 estimate, said Xuan Liu,manager of data analysis at Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, SEMCOG.

“The further away we are from that [2010] Census base, the less reliable the estimate.  We hope the 2020 Census provides much better information,” Liu said. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said the city’s residents should judge his performance almost exclusively according to population growth. Duggan said during his first campaign for mayor in 2013 that he would reverse the decades of population loss by lowering taxes and attracting more jobs, among other improvements. Voters re-elected Duggan in a landslide in 2017, even though population losses continued, albeit at a slowed pace, for his first four years in office. 

For each uncounted person in the decennial census count, Detroit stands to lose an estimated $5,500 — or $55,000 over 10 years — in federal aid, according to city estimates. Detroit receives about $3 billion in funding for federal programs each year. Those federal programs range from Medicare and free lunch at schools to Head Start and roads. The counts help set hospital funding, and could determine how much of the coronavirus vaccine goes to communities once one is developed.

The 2020 Census will also be used to draw congressional and state legislative districts. So far, the city estimates 45.8 percent of residents have filled out the 2020 Census forms. That’s one of the lowest response rates in the state, while Michigan’s is at 66.4 percent, one of the highest in the nation. The city of Detroit’s government website has an interactive map showing various parts of the city and the percentage of residents in that area who have filled out the Census forms.

Bridge Michigan reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report. 

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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1 Comment

  1. That census information is so tricky. There are people who live under the radar because we know that this administration will lie when the truth won’t hurt, so it’s not safe to put yourself out there is you have outstanding warrants, are undocumented, owe taxes, or any other reason regular people, now more than ever have to worry about being preyed upon. Then there are the worry free new Detroiters, who don’t fret about a bus not coming, about where their children will go to school, about making the unaffordable rent, about keeping water on. They don’t use Detroit addresses because they don’t pay the Detroit insurance rates. Other than coming for a good time, what possible reason would they pay three or four times the amount their parents pay for less insurance coverage? They aren’t going to pay the #BlackTax. And one more thing: The Downtown Development Authority can take – without limit- the tax captures intended for the Detroit Public Library and direct it to downtown development projects. We need libraries and we need them repaired, but the money goes downtown. So how is the census really helping libraries? It still isn’t enough to keep developers happy, as we have seen our governor have her life threatened by a developer and end up on tether. Is there a movement to #FreeTesch?

    Besides, when did Duggan ever have to worry about being held to his word about anything? The media adores him.

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