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Detroit — Wayne County led the nation in population loss for the seventh straight year in 2014, but the rate of decline is slowing, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The population of the state's largest county fell by 10,899 or 0.6 percent from 2013 to 2014, dropping to 1.76 million residents, according to the census data. That's well ahead of Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, which lost 4,099 residents last year and had the nation's second-largest decline.

Experts said Wayne County's decline is mostly from people leaving Detroit for suburbs. In 2013, the county lost just over 17,000 residents, while it declined about 36,000 from 2007 to 2008, said demographer Kurt Metzger.

"They are still leaving but it's much slower," said Metzger, director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit. "We can hope that maybe that's a harbinger of things to come."

Mayor Mike Duggan has linked his first-term performance reversing population losses of the city of about 688,000 residents.

Wayne County averaged a 1.2 percent drop per year between 2000 and 2010, which is double last year's decline, said Xuan Liu, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments manager of data analysis.

"Any positive trend in Wayne County numbers is a good indicator for the city of Detroit," Liu said.

In Michigan, Kent County had the largest population increase, rising 6,841 to 629,000. Oakland County was second, increasing 6,048 to 1.24 million, followed by Macomb, which rose 5,115 to 860,000.

Overall, Michigan's population increased slightly to 9.9 million. Growing counties included Ottawa outside Grand Rapids (up 3,415 to 267,000), Washtenaw (up 2,456 to 357,000) and Livingston (up 1,204 to 186,000). Losers included Flint's Genesee County (down 2,728 to 413,000) and Saginaw County (1,648 to 195,000).

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New population estimates for large cities, including Detroit, won't be release for several months.

Realtor Gene Kelley said there is an increased interest in Midtown, downtown and other established Detroit neighborhoods. Even so, Kelley said he's still seeing more city residents leaving for the suburbs, citing city schools and services.

"Some people just held on so long but there was a last straw," said Kelley of Real Estate One in Southfield, who noted that some were prompted to leave by car thefts or home burglaries.

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