Michigan's population loss accelerated this year, driven by an auto industry on the verge of collapse that has sent tens of thousands looking for a soft landing elsewhere in the country.
The state lost an estimated 46,000 people between 2007 and 2008, and experts expect the state's population to fall below 10 million by next year.
Michigan's stagnant growth portends the loss of clout: With other parts of the country continuing to see robust growth, the state will likely lose one of its 15 Congressional districts after the 2010 census. If it does, it will mark the fourth consecutive decade that the state has lost a seat.
The state's decline is rooted in mobility: The rising number of people who are leaving the state far exceeds the number coming into it. The state had a net loss of 109,257 people to domestic migration, up from 95,787 a year earlier and 57,257 in 2005. Immigration from abroad, once able to balance the domestic losses, continued to decline as well, with just 16,627 coming to Michigan, down from its recent high of 23,328 in 2001.
"It's that out-migration. It keeps going -- more and more and more," said Kurt Metzger, director of the Detroit Area Community Indicators System, a local nonprofit. "There's nothing else."
Births rose and deaths declined for the third consecutive year, pushing the state's "natural increase" up. But it was the loss from movers, many of whom left for economic reasons, which drove the state's population downward.
"When opportunities present themselves, people will move," said Rick Waclawek, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Growth's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.
Waclawek is hopeful that the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan -- estimated to pump from $650 billion to $850 billion into the economy -- will stem the tide of losses. Projects that may be undertaken with federal money could attract some of the same people who have left, he said.
The stimulus money is expected to go toward a range of initiatives, from tax relief and money for state governments to infrastructure projects.
"It's a dynamic society we're living in," he said.
Michael Duffield has been in real estate for 15 years and he's seeing some strange things in the market: People swapping houses, people walking away from their homes. Many are choosing the devastation of foreclosure and a move to another state for a job over sticking it out in Michigan.
"They're saying, 'Life marches on. I won't be a homeowner, I'll be a home renter,' " Duffield said.
Whether the movement out of the state will increase is unknown. With much of the rest of the country now experiencing the recession Michigan has dealt with for the better part of eight years, opportunities elsewhere have shrunk.
"They can't go many other places anymore," said Xuan Liu, manager of the data center for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
Overall, Michigan lost nearly 0.5 percent of its population in the last year; Rhode Island lost 0.2 percent. All other states showed an increase, with Utah, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado showing the biggest percentage increases. Texas added 483,542 residents, the largest increase in people.
Regionally, the Northeast had the slowest overall increase, at 0.3 percent and 163,000 people, followed by the Midwest at 0.4 percent, or 249,000 people. The South added nearly 1.4 million people, or 1.3 percent, while the West added 974,000, or 1.4 percent.
The population changes represent a steady shift over nearly a half-century. In 1960, the Midwest and Northeast comprised more than half the nation's population, with the West and South just under half. Now, the West and South make up 60 percent of the population; the Midwest and Northeast just 40 percent.
Likewise, the loss of political clout has been steady: Michigan had as many as 19 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as late as 1982. But it lost one seat in advance of that's year's election; two in the 1990s, and one following the 2000 census. Meanwhile, the South and West have gained dozens and could add another eight after the 2010 count.
The Census Bureau uses birth and death records, as well as income tax returns to gauge population trends. The estimates, however, do not affect a state's federal funding, which is based instead on the decennial census counts.
With the auto industry, like most of the economy, mired in doubt, it's unclear when Michigan will pull out of its current downspin, the worst since the state saw a larger decline in population from 1981 to 1983. Economists are saying it will be late 2009 if not 2010 before the state sees a recovery.