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Stateside Podcast: MI's population problem

Design by Rachel Ishikawa

The state of Michigan is currently ranked 50th out of 51 states and Washington D.C. for population growth. The statistics suggest that people want to leave — particularly young people.

According to a poll conducted by the Detroit Regional Chamber, 26% of voters aged 18-29 said they thought they would be living somewhere else in a decade from now. And this figure was higher for young Black voters, with 32% saying they could be living elsewhere in a decade.

On today’s podcast, we spoke with Sam Robinson, a reporter at Axios, and Don Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan, to learn more about this situation.

Why this is happening

Michigan’s population problem is in part due to the long term effects of the pandemic and the 2008 recession, Robinson said. Grimes also detailed how COVID affected population patterns between big cities and small towns, with rural areas growing and big cities declining due to remote work.

This isn’t the first time Michigan’s population has experienced population declines.

“Michigan suffered huge population losses during the 1980s and then in the first decade of this century,” Grimes noted. “The people who tend to move tend to be younger. … So we lost a lot of our young potential workers in those two economic crises.”

Grimes said that Michigan is “particularly horrible relative to other states” at encouraging people from other parts of the country to move here.

Part of this issue could be rooted in the fact that the tax incentives don’t take into account where young people want to live. For example, Robinson pointed out how difficult it is to get graduates from the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and other large state universities to move to the rural areas where large electric vehicle plants are being planned.

Robison noted that some of these more rural areas can be particularly challenging places for Black folks to live.

“If you're not living in Detroit, you're not living in Ann Arbor, you don't have many amenities,” Robinson said. “You know, think of Saginaw, Benton Harbor or Kalamazoo, you know, the more rural places that Black folks in Michigan live. … It's hard for folks to live out there. They're bored. … A lot of folks would rather be around, you know, communities that they can see themselves in.”

What Michigan can do

The Whitmer administration has already taken some steps to support the state’s population growth.

“Last fall, we actually heard that there was going to be a task force made up of Republicans and Democrats to address this issue,” Robinson said. “And she is also announcing the hiring of a new statewide chief growth officer.”

There is still plenty of room for growth beyond what the Whitmer Administration has already done. Grimes noted three suggestions for bolstering population growth: to increase the labor force participation rate, to increase our international migration, and to try to change the domestic out-migration we’ve seen.

“What you want is a town with a lot of white collar jobs. You want to live in a place with a lot of nice natural resources,” Grimes said. ”We should be promoting the Great Lakes as a magnificent resource … People should want to live near those Great Lakes the same way that people want to live near mountains in Colorado or the beaches in Florida.”

To hear more from both of these guests on the roots of Michigan’s glacial population growth and where to go from here, listen to the Stateside Podcast.


  • Sam Robinson, reporter at Axios Detroit
  • Don Grimes, economist at the University of Michigan

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Olivia Mouradian recently graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.