Wayne, Washtenaw lose residents as state's western counties grow

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Wayne and Washtenaw counties led the state in population losses last year, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates released Thursday. 

And while they still are attracting new residents, Macomb, Oakland and Livingston counties saw their population gains slow last year. The state's biggest winners continue to be on the west side: Kent County grew by about 3,600 residents, increasing to 657,000 in 2019, and nearby Ottawa County increased by about 2,000 to 291,800.

Washtenaw County, at about 368,000 residents, lost nearly 1,900, its first decline since 2008.  And the drop of 5,100 residents in Wayne County was an uptick from last year's decline of about 2,760.  Both counties' losses are due mostly to residents moving out and fewer immigrants coming moving in, said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit.

"We are just not attracting people," Metzger said.

Michigan's population overall grew only slightly in 2019 by nearly 2,800 residents to just under 10 million, according to U.S. Census data released late last year.

Oakland County, at nearly 1.3 million, only gained 890 residents in 2019. Macomb County, at 874,000, gained about 1,180. And Livingston County, at 192,000, gained 800 residents.

Wayne County's numbers likely mean Detroit will show population losses when numbers for cities are released later this spring. 

Among the hardest hit in Michigan is the Tri-Cities area. Saginaw and Bay counties combined have lost about 7,600 residents since 2014. Metzger said he wasn't surprised that the area known for an older industrial-businesses base has lost, while the Grand Rapids area has gained with an economy tied to education and the medical field. 

Matthew Felan, president and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Region Alliance, said the loss is due largely to the area's aging population and a slower recovery from the 2008 recession. 

"We didn't snap back as quick as everybody else," Felan said. 

The median age of Bay County is 43.3 and Saginaw County is 40.9, compared to the state at 39.8.

Felan said there is hope for gains. Condos and apartment at being built in downtowns and businesses have been expanding, prior to the recent coronavirus outbreak. He said other businesses have been able to absorb some of the job losses connected to Dow Inc.'s restructuring last year and they hope to keep college students from local universities like Central Michigan University and Saginaw Valley State University after graduation. 

"We've started giving them more reason to stay," he said. "When we get over this we will bounce back."

Also in Thursday's release, data shows the six-county Detroit metropolitan area lost an estimated 2,455 residents as of July, but remained 14th largest in the nation at about 4.3 million people. That includes includes Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Lapeer, Livingston and St. Clair.

Metzger cautioned the 2019 numbers are estimates and that the decennial census conducted this year will provide more up-to-date data. 

"It reinforces how important the census count this year is going to be," said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. 

Nationally, most of the population growth has been in the counties in southern and western states. Six of the 10 counties with the largest gains this decade were in Texas, according to the census.