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Detroit's population dropped last year, closing out the decade without the gain of new residents that Mayor Mike Duggan and experts had predicted. 

The city's population was 670,031 as of last summer, a loss of 2,946, according to yearly U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday. That's the largest drop since 2015. The previous year's loss was 1,654.

But experts warn the estimates are less reliable the further from the decennial census and say that's why the ongoing 2020 Census headcount is so important for the city.  

"You really do have to take it with a grain of salt," said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit and mayor of Pleasant Ridge.  "This is a clarion call for the 2020 Census. It's absolutely critical."

As of Tuesday, Detroit's response rate for the 2020 Census was 46%, one of the lowest of the nation's big cities. Michigan's overall response rate ranks fourth highest in the nation at 66%.

Although the declines have slowed in recent years, Detroit lost more residents since 2010 than any other big city in the nation, nearly 44,000, census data shows. Detroit dropped one spot to the nation's 24th largest city, behind Nashville, in the latest population estimates.

Duggan had said he expected the city would start drawing residents by the end of his first term in 2017 and at the time said his performance should be measured by the milestone.

“These numbers are the last of the estimates based off of the census conducted a decade ago," said Duggan spokesman John Roach in a statement Wednesday. "It just reinforces how important it is for us to make sure every Detroiter is counted in 2020.”

Nearly $30 billion in federal funding comes to Michigan every year and is based on population data, said Kerry Ebersole Singh, executive director Michigan 2020 Census.

"For us to get the resources we deserve, we need to make sure everyone is counted," she said. 

Renters are less likely to fill out their census, and Detroit's multilevel apartment buildings make the count difficult, Ebersole Singh said. Detroit announced this week the Everybody VS COVID-19 digital Unity Festival, which will run May 29-30, will promote Census 2020. It will include live-streamed performances from national recording artists and local musicians. 

Detroit's 2019 loss was smaller than other big cities nationwide: Baltimore lost 8,953 residents, Chicago 7,447 and San Jose, California, 6,225 in the latest estimates.

The biggest gainers in Michigan last year were Macomb Township, up by 1,207; Grand Rapids, up 877; Shelby Township, up 782; Auburn Hills, up 753; and Canton Township, which increased by 749 residents. 

Besides Detroit, the communities that lost the most population were: Ann Arbor, down 1,449; Marenisco Township in the Upper Peninsula's Gogebic County, down 932; Ypsilanti, down 739; and Muskegon, which lost 728 residents. The state closed the Ojibway prison in Marenisco Township in late 2018.

County population numbers released in March showed Wayne and Washtenaw counties with the largest losses statewide in 2019, while west-side Kent and Ottawa counties gained. 

Detroit isn't alone. Overall, the six-county Detroit metropolitan area lost an estimated 2,455 residents as of July. 

Xuan Liu, director of research and data analysis for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said Metro Detroit is seeing fewer immigrants, aging residents and an increase of residents moving out of the area. 

"That trend doesn’t help the city," Liu said in an email. "The current pandemic may also have negative impacts on the city’s population, as social distancing doesn’t favor higher density, and even fewer people may migrate to here."

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.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

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