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Families, Minorities Spur Growth

posted on: Mar 26, 2011

In a region where the story was population emigration, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights managed to ebb the flow better than most Metropolitan Detroit communities.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday released data for Michigan from last year’s nationwide people count and the results confirmed what studies and experts have speculated for years: Michigan’s population has declined and the state’s largest population center — Detroit — and its neighboring communities have, for the most part, experienced the greatest loss. Already known was that Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population over the last decade.

But the banner headline from the recent data was that Detroit lost a full quarter of its population, going from roughly 950,000 people in 2000 to 715,000 as of last year. The loss takes the city from being the 10th most populous in the country to the 18th. And the news means many things: Detroit will lose political clout, it will be exempt from some forms of federal funding and, more broadly speaking, it will lose out on some of the brand recognition associated with being a top 10 most populated city.

Led by the Detroit drop-off, Wayne County recorded an 11.7% population loss. And in terms of cities and townships that lost people, the level of population decline is very much a ripple effect outward from Detroit – the further you get away from it the more muted the losses.

Local communities though, proved somewhat of an exception to that rule. Of the 19 communities that border Detroit, Dearborn was the only one that actually recorded a population increase, going from 97,775 in 2000 to 98,153 in 2010, or a 0.5 percent increase. Dearborn Heights, meanwhile, did lose 0.8 percent of its population compared to the last Census, going from 58,264 to 57,774. Still, that was the third-lowest population loss total for the 19 Detroit border cities, which averaged 4.9 percent.

Dearborn and Dearborn Heights also outpaced the Census Bureau’s own projections. In 2009, the Census Bureau estimated Dearborn’s population had dropped to 88,677 while Dearborn Heights was thought to have fallen to 52,659.

The better-than-expected news should be taken as a testament to the relative stability of the two communities, said one expert.

“When you look at the surrounding Wayne County communities this is definitely a positive for Dearborn and Dearborn Heights,” said Dale Thomson, an assistant professor of political science at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“I think it’s a testament to the service mix they’re providing and the kind of communities that exist there.”

The new population numbers mean Dearborn now ranks as the 8th largest city in Michigan while Dearborn Heights comes in at 20.

In addition to the broader population numbers, the Census showed some big changes in more narrow demographics and it likely has some correlation to Detroit’s massive population decline.

Dearborn, with its tenuous history of race relations, saw an explosion in the African-American population over the last decade. In 2000, the city had about 1,250 African-American residents. That figure has tripled since and now stands at nearly 4,000.

The influx of African-Americans was even more pronounced in Dearborn Heights, going from about 1,250 in 2000 to roughly 4,500 as of last year.

“You can’t say it definitively, but it is probably true that a lot of the African-Americans who have moved into the area are coming from Detroit,” Thomson said.

Race is a vexing issue for demographers looking at population shifts in the Dearborn area. The area’s large Arab population, which in Dearborn is projected at as much as 30 percent of the overall population, is not counted separately for Census purposes. Rather, Arabs are categorized simply as white. Nonetheless, Thomson said, it’s fair to say the immigrant community was a big part of the relatively stable population count.

“What you saw after Sept. 11 was a kind of consolidation of the Arab community with concerns about discrimination and more people moved into the area,” Thomson said. “Again, you can’t really tell definitively from these numbers, but I have studied the Arab population here and we found there was definitely a consolidation at that time.”

J. Patrick Pepper
Press & Guide