December 23, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Michigan's population drops below 10M

After 14 years as an engineer with Ford Motor Company, Dave Stefanic was let go by the company in June 2008. He and wife Cindi Stefanic and daughters Chelsea, 11, and Brooke, 9, left their home in Brownstown Township and moved to Spartansburg, South Carolina in January, where Dave has been hired as an engineer at Spartanburg Steel. Dave and Cindi grew up in Woodhaven and were high school sweethearts before getting married. Neither has ever lived outside of southeast Michigan. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Economic woes continued to force thousands of Michiganians to leave the state, leading the overall population to drop below 10 million for the first time since 2000, according to population estimates released Wednesday morning by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The July 1, 2009, population estimate shows the state lost an estimated 32,759 people, the fourth consecutive year the population fell. Only Maine and Rhode Island saw their population go down in the last year.

Michigan has been bleeding people since 2005, and at the heart of the decline has been the growing exodus of people moving out looking for work. The current estimate puts Michigan's population at 9,969,727, down from 10,002,486 in 2008. The state has seen a net loss of more than a half-million people to other states since 2001 -- a number that swamps the natural increase from a greater number of births than deaths.

For a number of years, the relative vibrancy of the nation's economy gave unemployed Michigan workers a chance to seek jobs in the Sun Belt and across the country. But with the rest of the nation fully consumed by the recession in 2008, some experts suspected there would be fewer opportunities for workers to flee Michigan.

But the estimates released Wednesday show that people still found ways to leave -- either for another job, retirement or education. Although the outmigration slowed, from an estimated 103,637 from 2007 to 2008 to 87,339 from 2008 to 2009, it still pulled the state's population into the negative.

At current trends, Georgia's population -- growing at a steady clip for years -- could pass Michigan as early as next year to become the eighth largest state in the country. Florida was the last state to surpass Michigan, back in 1979.

Xuan Liu, manager of SEMCOG's data center, said Michigan's migration trend could actually pick up after the nation recovers. He said the state has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the last few years that are unlikely to return. That will force people to find other work, become entrepreneurs or "go other places to find jobs."

"I think it's very likely we're going to see more people leave," he said.

The impact from outmigration is marked: It lowers the state tax base and puts additional strain on state and local resources. And it puts additional pressure on an already soft housing market, he said.

The nation's population rose roughly 2.6 million people over the year, an increase of 0.9 percent. Texas had the largest gain, adding another 466,000 people, or 2 percent.

The estimate is the last before next year's official decennial census. The Census Bureau makes the estimates based on birth and death records, Medicare information and IRS tax filings.