Detroit's stunning population loss means new budget concerns

Downtown Detroit.

Kai Ryssdal: The 2010 census results for Detroit are out, and they confirm what has been assumed since the last census 10 years ago. Detroit lost a quarter of its population since 2000. The Motor City hasn't been this small in 100 years. Detroit officials aren't taking the news in stride.

Because, as Marketplace's Jeff Tyler explains, there's money at stake.


Jeff Tyler: Cities like Detroit get federal and state funds based on their populations. Alyssa Lee is president of Social Compact, which specializes in identifying people missed by the census.

Alyssa Lee: For every person that is under-counted, it's a loss of around $2,000 per person.

The latest census found 714,000 people in Detroit. That came as a shock to city leaders. They had commissioned their own headcount from Social Compact a year earlier.

Lee: We found 850,000 in population. Those numbers are very different from the numbers that have come out of the census.

The mayor plans to challenge the census numbers. He needs to show that the population is above 750,000 in order to avoid losing federal money. That may work. Detroit has successfully challenged the census count in the past.

Still, the exodus is undeniable. To reverse the trend, the city is offering cheap houses for police officers who move back to the city.

Lyke Thompson directs the Center for Urban Studies. He says Detroit institutions like Wayne State University are also trying to attract new residents.

Lyke Thompson: They're offering substantial cash incentives for people in that area to buy houses or even to rent.

But in the end, Thompson says the city really needs to focus its spending on just a few promising neighborhoods. He says that would allow Detroit to better allocate shrinking resources for a shrinking city.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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