Detroit is seeing its first population growth since 1957

Detroit — For the first time in 66 years, Detroit’s population grew, according to new Census Bureau estimates for 2023, which Mayor Mike Duggan hailed as “a day of celebration” for Michigan’s largest city.

Detroit gained 1,852 people from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, bringing the city’s population to 633,218, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday. Duggan said it was the first time since 1957 that the population has increased year-over-year.

“When I started in 2014, our management’s goal was to grow,” Duggan told The Detroit News. “It’s taken 10 years, but we’re here. It’s a day of celebration.”

It’s a far cry from a year ago, when Duggan called the Census Bureau a “clown show,” accusing it of undercounting the city’s population. On Wednesday, Duggan pointed out that the bureau had updated those numbers over the past year — the original figure for 2022 was 620,376, whereas the new update was 631,366 in 2022.

Detroit saw the largest growth in terms of actual population of any city in Michigan, beating out East Lansing, which gained 1,266 people over the same period.

As of 2020, the city’s population has declined even more, however, as the central government conducted a hard count of residents with field workers. Since April 1, 2020 — the official “Census Day” for the decennial census — the bureau estimates the city has lost more than 6,200 people.

When asked about those numbers, Duggan emphasized year-over-year growth numbers.

“This is the first year the Census Bureau has acknowledged our growth,” he said, pointing to the number of apartments, houses and more being built in the city. “I think when you walk around town, you can feel the vibe.”

Duggan made a point early as mayor to gauge whether Detroit’s population was growing. In 2014, he said as he began his first term, he “will be judged on one thing: whether the administration can reverse that trend.”

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When he began his second term in January 2018, updated figures showing the city had gained population in 2017 were expected in the spring, but that did not happen, the mayor said. When Duggan took office on January 1, 2014, the city’s population was about 680,000.

“I’ve always believed that a mayor should be judged by the most people going in or out,” Duggan said Wednesday. “It took longer than I would have liked, but everywhere you look in the city now, there are apartments being built. People are fixing up houses and moving in.”

Is Detroit underpopulated?

Curt Metzger, director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, a demographer who has studied Detroit extensively, said he would estimate Detroit is closer to 650,000 people, maybe 660,000. He pointed to construction and more as signs of positive change and population growth for the city.

“The city has been growing in population for years and it just never showed,” Metzger said of the bureau’s numbers. “It’s going to accelerate, and the 2024 numbers are going to show very high growth. It’s going to accelerate for the next few years.”

Metzger argued that the Census Bureau has been underestimating the city for years. In many cities, demolitions mean a loss of population. But in Detroit, demolitions often mean removing buildings that have been abandoned for years, Metzger said.

The city’s constant challenges to the Census Bureau’s estimates are working, he added. The update to the 2022 numbers is a result, and Metzger said, to give the bureau a better understanding of what demolition means in Detroit.

“We’re finally making them listen,” he said. “The growth last year was real, maybe even more. We understand the miss, yes, but this is growth.”

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How were other cities?

Detroit is far from the only major city in Michigan to lose population by 2020. Many of Michigan’s largest communities have shrunk during the same period — Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-most populous city, saw a 1.15% decrease to 196,608 as of April 1, 2020. As of July 1, 2023, Warren, the state’s third-largest city, fell 2% to 136,655 over the same period.

Nine of Michigan’s 10 largest cities shrank at least some in the three years to 2020. Macomb Township was the exception, gaining 480 people to 92,747, or about 1.19%.

By and large, some smaller communities across the state have grown since 2020, helping to slow the state’s population decline. Like Detroit, Michigan shrank from 2020 — it had 10,077,674 — but grew to 10,037,261 between 2022 and 2023. Two-thirds of Michiganders live in cities with fewer than 50,000 people, higher than the national average of 61%.

The area that saw the largest percentage growth between 2020 and 2023 was Springdale Township in northwest Michigan’s Manistee County, according to the Census Bureau. This is 43.85% – from 853 people in 2020 to 1,227 in 2023, a growth of 374 people.

Some local officials were surprised to hear about the progress. But Springdale Township Clerk Penny Nelson said the increase in registered voters in recent years shows that’s true.

“The statistics don’t lie,” Nelson said. “There are more people here. It’s the people who live here, it’s the snowbirds. We have some people who build vacation homes and stay here, but they work downstream.”

There are many reasons people choose Springdale Township, he said. Taxes are low, and the city is close to vacation spots like Crystal Mountain. Even if people wanted to expand, they couldn’t: The city’s infrastructure was built for a small community, not a large subdivision, Nelson said.

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It’s not perfect, she said – there is a road that can be rebuilt. To shop, she travels about 40 minutes to Traverse City. One avid shopper joked that cities like his help keep Amazon in business.

But being in a small town offers a break that other places can’t, Nelson said. She and her husband were originally from Chicago, then moved to Walled Lake and eventually ended up in Springdale Township.

“People have had enough of big cities,” Nelson said. “It drives me crazy driving through Downstate, and then I come back here, and I think it’s a beautiful place. In big cities, people look around and say, ‘Is this the life I want to live? What are my values? ‘ Here, you can have a lot of property and enjoy the place. .”

What caused the small town to grow?

That’s pushing many people to smaller cities, said Reynolds Farley, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Center for Population Studies. The costs of living in large communities can be high for people. Housing, in particular, has become more expensive, especially near cities, and that’s pushing people out, Reynolds said.

But Michigan is still more affordable than many states, he said. The state itself is relatively financially secure, and the environment is “attractive,” Farley said. The growth of small towns is a good sign for Michigan and what’s to come, he said.

“I think people should be in a place where they feel welcome,” Farley said. “For some, it’s Detroit with its amenities, for others, it’s a small town with low taxes and land. Michigan has something for everyone.”

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