March 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

2010 Census

Detroit's population falls 25%, Bing wants recount

Mayor Bing addresses census findings
Mayor Bing addresses census findings: 2010 Census undercounted Detroit residents, mayor says

Detroit lost a quarter of its population in the past decade, a historic exodus creating enormous economic, logistical and political headaches for an already reeling city.

Census figures released Tuesday pegged Motown's population at 713,777 — its lowest population in a century.

Once the fourth-largest city in the United States, Detroit now is 18th, below Columbus, Ohio, and just ahead of Memphis. The 237,493 who left Michigan's largest city would themselves make up the state's second-largest city. The loss alone is comparable to the populations of medium-sized cities such as Orlando, Fla., and Madison, Wis.

Michigan was the only state to lose population in the decade, falling 54,000 to 9,883,640. Wayne County as a whole lost more than 11 percent of its population; Oakland County held steady, and Macomb County grew by almost 7 percent. Livingston County jumped 15 percent.

In 1960, Detroit accounted for 44 percent of the Metro area's population; by 2010, Detroit made up only 18 percent.

Detroit loses more than stature. The depopulation — the equivalent of a busload of Detroiters leaving the city every day for 10 years — means the city will lose millions in state funds.

It likely will lose Senate and House seats in Lansing. Laws written specifically for Detroit may have to be rewritten so the city still qualifies.

The record-setting hemorrhage is likely to complicate Mayor Dave Bing's efforts to reinvent the city.

And the bleeding won't stop soon.

"Until people are comfortable with the school system, until insurance rates and taxes are lower, until people feel there's a value to living in Detroit, people are going to continue to leave," said demographer Kurt Metzger. "I thought the bottom would be 725,000, and we're already below that. Maybe we're going to go down to 675,000 before we stabilize."

Detroit has been losing people since 1950, when its population peaked at 1.8 million. Demographers and city officials had expected the city to shrink again when 2010 census figures were released, but the scope of the decline stunned even the experts.

"That's lower than anything I could have imagined," Metzger said. "This makes it even more critical to figure out what's going on in the city."

Among big cities, only New Orleans lost a larger percentage of its population, the result of Hurricane Katrina. Detroit's loss wasn't from a natural disaster, but an economic storm. A decade-long recession, double-digit unemployment rates and a foreclosure crisis that left thousands of homes abandoned combined to push more people out of the city.

"People were tired of lack of services," Metzger said. "They wanted to be able to shop in their neighborhood and feel safe."

A decade of change

Middle-class whites had been moving to Detroit's sprawling suburbs for a half-century. Middle-class African-Americans followed, beginning in the 1990s, Metzger said. When housing prices plummeted in recent years, more Detroiters could afford to flee.

"It's the crime, the insurance rates, it's so overwhelming for people trying to be legal and honest and work and live in the city," said Darryl Gaddy, 44, who was born and raised in East Detroit and recently moved to Harper Woods.

Gaddy is the minister of Victory Fellowship Church on the city's east side. "We do a lot of community work," he said. "But the community has gotten so bad, while I still serve the community, I can't live in it.

"It saddens me because I know the possibilities and the opportunities that exist. But investment left the city."

Oakland County's black population grew 35 percent, while Macomb County's grew a whopping 240 percent.

Eastpointe's black population grew five-fold in the decade; St. Clair Shores and Warren's black populations grew about four-fold.

Charilyn Goolsby, 45, left the city in 2009 with her 15-year-old daughter for Southfield. Between crime, City Hall corruption, insurance costs and schools, "it just got to be too much," Goolsby said.

"Detroit just got too messy for me," said Goolsby, a business consultant. "I was not getting the benefits of those tax dollars. The city services are poor and I could not use the school system. And you look at the cost of living and the corruption, we had to leave."

Detroit lost 44 percent of its white residents, and 24 percent of its black residents. The Hispanic population was stable. Detroit now has about the same number of white residents as St. Clair Shores.

"If you don't have a job, your tendency is to move out and try to find areas where they do have jobs, and I think that dramatically really hurt this region overall," said Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. "It's disappointing in the numbers. Looking to the future, there are a lot of opportunities that if we do this right, people will not only have jobs here but will be attracted to the state. What we have to do is focus on the future."

Detroit to protest count

Detroit Mayor Bing said the city will challenge the results "immediately."

"Personally, I don't believe that the number is accurate and I don't believe it will stand up as we go through with our challenge," he said. "The census has a history of undercounting residents in urban cities like Detroit."

City Council President Charles Pugh appealed to the census to count Detroit's lawbreakers. There are thousands of Detroiters in prisons around the state who should be counted as city residents, he said. Pugh argued that Detroit's population is also undercounted because "we know that there are thousands of people, because of car insurance, that have addresses in the suburbs."

If the numbers aren't revised, the low census count is "potentially devastating" to the city, Pugh said.

Part of the revenue sharing cash given to cities by the state is based on population. Detroit's share of that pot of money was $60.3 million in the 2009-10 budget year. While the formula is complex, the cash-strapped city could lose millions of dollars each year because of the new census figures, said Jim Stansell, economist with the Michigan House Fiscal Agency.

That loss will be felt as early as next month, when the state sends out its next bimonthly revenue sharing checks to cities.

Because the budget year is half over, the remaining state checks sent to Detroit not only will reflect the lower revenue sharing figures, but will be cut even more to make up for the cash that Detroit was overpaid.

"We are in a fiscal crisis and we have to fight for every dollar," Bing said. "Every person that's counted in the census brings approximately $10,000 to Detroit over the next decade for schools, roads, hospitals and social services programs like Medicaid."

Bing said the city needs to find another 40,000 residents to bring the population to 750,000. That threshold could "make a difference in terms of what we can get from the federal government as well as the state government," he said.

Demographer Reynolds Farley, professor emeritus at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, says census count appeals generally only increase figures marginally. "They may get 2,000 or 3,000, but nothing significant," Farley said.

Loss of cash, clout

The number also could be significant in other ways. For example, state law allows communities with populations of at least 750,000 to levy income taxes of 3 percent for residents and 1.5 percent for nonresidents who work in the city. It wasn't immediately clear what impact Detroit's population loss would have on its income tax or the law.

That's just one of as many as 100 state bills will potentially have to be rewritten because of the new census figures. Because cities cannot be mentioned by name, they are identified by population, said Burton Leland, a Wayne County commissioner and former state representative.

Laws meant to apply only to Detroit already were rewritten once, to change from "cities over 1million" to "cities over 750,000." Now, they will need to be rewritten again, said Leland.

Detroit also is likely to lose clout in Lansing, because state House and Senate districts will be redrawn based on the 2010 census.

The Skillman Foundation, which is in the midst of a 10-year, $100 million investment in six Detroit neighborhoods, will not change its commitment because of the declines, said Sharnita Johnson, a senior program officer for Skillman.

"We still know there are a significant number of families living in the areas we are working in," she said. "We hope our work will encourage and inspire folks to remain or move back to the city."

Katy Locker, a vice president of programs for the Hudson-Webber Foundation, said the group was surprised by how low the number dipped.

But she said the foundation, which spends about $6 million a year in Detroit, is convinced that a significant number of Detroit neighborhoods remain strong and worth investing in.

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Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.

The Rev. Darryl Gaddy has moved to Harper Woods: “We do a lot of community work. But the community has gotten so bad, while I still serve the community, I can’t live in it.” / Todd McInturf / The Detroit News