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2020 census update: What are Michigan's biggest population changes in the past decade?

A sign points out a Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Midland.
Brett Dahlberg

More people are living in West Michigan. 

That’s according to new numbers released from the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday.

Ottawa, Kent and Allegan counties all made it into the top five of Michigan’s fastest growing counties since 2010. Ottawa County's population grew the fastest, jumping by 12%.
The second fastest is Grand Traverse County, where Traverse City is located in the northern Lower Peninsula. Washtenaw County was fifth with an 8% increase.

Wayne and Oakland are still the state's most populous counties.

Michigan has the second slowest rate of population growth in the country. Its population increased by 2% since 2010, now over 10 million people.

In 2010, Michigan was the only state in the country to have a population decrease, and lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Michigan is one of seven statesthat will lose a seat again, based on the 2020 census data.

Western and southern states saw some of the biggest population increases in the U.S. Three states and Puerto Rico saw a decrease. 

Reynolds Farley is a University of Michigan professor who studies population trends.

He says decreases in the state's population may primarily be from fewer jobs and industries in certain communities and regions in the state. 

"The Midwest has been hard hit by declines in manufacturing employment. There's still a lot of manufacturing here," he explained. "But the automation of jobs has just wiped out many of the good blue collar jobs that once sustained a very large population here in the Midwest." 

Upper Peninsula counties saw the highest rate of population loss. Luce County lost almost 20% of it's population in a decade, the highest rate of any in the state. Isabella County, in the center of the state where Mount Pleasant is, saw a population decrease of 8.4% from 2010. 


But Farley was surprised to see Detroit's census update: 639,111 people. A 10.5% decrease from 2010. 

He points out that a 2019 estimate from the American Community Survey puts Detroit as 670,031. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is currently questioning the count, noting that DTE Energy reports more houses than the census. He said the city is “pursuing our legal remedies to get Detroit an accurate count.” 

While Michigan ranked high among other states for self-response rates for the census, Detroit was last among large cities. Flint also had a lower self-response rate, and lost 20% of its population since 2010.

People of color are likely to be undercounted in general, due to a number of factors. The early end of door-knocking for census workers and government mistrust after former president Donald Trump attempted to put a citizenship question on the ballot are just two examples. The release of undercount rates is pending. 

Michigan's "Be Counted" campaign had expressed worry, before the deadline, about the impact on low-income, immigrant and communities of color and the chance of them being "shortchanged" as a result.


The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area, which saw a 2.2% increase, remains Michigan's largest metro area. Currently it is the 14th largest metro area in the nation with over 4.3 million people. 

Novi and Dearborn saw some of the biggest increases since 2010 among Michigan's largest cities. Grand Rapids is still the state's second most populous city.


The percent of Black Michiganders is 13.7% in 2020 versus 14.2% in 2010. White people who are not Hispanic or Latino saw around a 4.6% decrease. Michigan's third largest group, Hispanic or Latino, saw a slight increase to 5.6%.

The census is not be able capture the entire picture of Michigan's demographics, especially since people of Middle Eastern and North African origins will continue to be hidden in the data. (They are classified as "White.") According to researchers, the way someone self-identifies can change over time or with difference context. And identity can be more nuanced than the census presents.

Kim Brace, with the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, noted in a Thursday press briefing Michigan's changing demographics.

"The most astounding thing we're seeing in Michigan, also across the country, is the significant increase in the 'some other race' or 'two or more races' that people have selected this time. In 2010, Michigan had 2.3% of its population showing up as 'some other race' or 'two or more.' It's now up to 6.3%," he said.

The census has a measure called a "Diversity Index", which is the likelihood of two people being selected from the area being of difference race and ethnic groups. The nationwide number is 61%. Michigan is 45%.

Wayne has the highest diversity index in the state, at 62.5%.

Michigan is also getting older. There was a decrease of 7.7% of people under 18 from 2010. 

Now to redistricting

The census is important for Michigan communities to secure funding. And it also kicks off Michigan’s redistricting mapping process. 

The state has an independent citizen-led commission. It's using census data to determine fair political district boundaries. These boundaries determine political districts for future elections.

Quentin Turner is the state program director for Common Cause. It's an organization tackling gerrymandering. He says Michiganders have a unique opportunity to speak up about the communities they live and and how they want to be represented. Especially Black, Latino and other communities of color. 

"Talk to the commission. Show them, 'This is a map of my neighborhood, this is a map of where my people live, this is what it's like in this community. And this is why it's important, we stand together and are represented together.'" 

Census workers had a tumultuous year, facing a pandemic and an early deadline. However,  Census Bureau acting Director Ron Jarmin said the data is "high quality" and "fit to use for redistricting."

Proposed maps of Michigan's new political district lines will be available for public comment in November.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
Brad Gowland joined Michigan Radio in 2019 to help with the station's growing digital side, specializing in data collection and digital audio.
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