Detroit’s population drops by one-fourth in the last decade

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Renaissance Center, the world headquarters of General Motors, 1981

Figures released by the U.S. 2010 census on Wednesday show that the city of Detroit has lost approximately 238,270 people, one-fourth of its total, since 2000. Detroit, once one of the top five U.S. cities in population, has its lowest number of residents since 1910.

Population numbers affect the amount of federal and state funding a city receives. In the last few decades, dozens of Michigan state laws have been passed allowing Detroit, because its population was at least 750,000, special measures to raise revenue and allocating it a larger share of Michigan's state revenue than its population warranted. Now that Detroit's population has fallen to 713,777, it is no longer eligible for these financial advantages.

"Except for New Orleans after Katrina, it's basically the largest drop for a U.S. city in history.

Andrew Beveridge, Sociology professor

The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing plans to appeal the census results. He says more than 35,000 residents were not counted.

Countryside in Detroit under a program to reduce city size by demolishing vacant buildings.

"Every person that’s counted in the census brings approximately $10,000 to Detroit over the next decade for schools, roads, hospitals, and social service programs," Bing explained. "Additionally, we could lose millions in statutory revenue sharing from the state. We are in a fiscal crisis and we have to fight for every dollar. We can’t afford to let these results stand."

Detroit was the fifth largest U.S. city in 1950. The decline of the auto industry hastened the population loss already diminished by the 1967 riots that precipitated white flight to the suburbs. Approximately 23 percent of the city’s living quarters are now empty. To reduce the city's size there is a program in progress to demolish 10,000 abandoned or vacant buildings and turn the land into farms or countryside by 2014.

Detroit's congressional power has been steadily decreasing. It already lost one congressional seat since the 1980s.

U.S. federal laws forbid drawing congressional district boundaries that dilute minority voting strength. The 2000 redistricting rules for the 2012 elections mandated that Detroit's two congressional districts must be 60 percent black voters, since four out of five of Detroit's residents are black. To comply, the two remaining congressional districts will have to expand into Detroit's mostly white suburbs to attain enough minority voters to meet the 60 percent target, reducing the clout of black Detroit.

Andrew Beveridge, Queens College sociology professor, attributed Detroit's population decline to the loss of its industrial base. He said: "Except for New Orleans after Katrina, it's basically the largest drop for a U.S. city in history. They have to find an economic base or the decline will continue."