As Michigan's Cities Empty Out, a Look Back at a Decade of Bad News

The state's woes include layoffs, foreclosures, and a moribund auto industry

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According to numbers released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, Detroit is disappearing. The troubled industrial center lost a full 25 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010, putting it at its lowest level since 1910. Nor is it unique: Four of the five largest cities in Michigan saw their populations decline over the past decade. Flint, the city immortalized in Michael Moore's Roger & Me, lost 18 percent of its residents, putting it at its lowest population since the 1920s.

"The census figures clearly show how crucial it is to reinvent Michigan," Governor Rick Snyder said today. "Michigan will not succeed if Detroit and other major cities don’t succeed. We all must be partners in Michigan’s reinvention." Meanwhile, two reporters at The Detroit News crunched the numbers: If 237,493 people left Detroit in a 10-year period, that comes to 65 people leaving every day, or 2.7 people leaving each hour.

How did things get to this point? The decline of urban Michigan isn't a new story: Flint, for example, has seen its population fall by thousands or tens of thousands in every census since 1960. And it's worth noting that the overall population of Michigan only fell 0.6% since 2000--although that was during a period when the population of the U.S. grew 9.7%, and Michigan was the only state in America to experience a net population loss during that decade.

All in all, the 21st century hasn't been kind to Michigan thus far. Some of the lowlights:

Between 2005 and 2006, as reported by The New York Sun, Michigan's per capita personal income growth was 6.7% lower than the national average--"a statistic the state has not seen," noted the report, "since the Great Depression."

From 2006 to 2010, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. It was finally overtaken by Nevada last year, though it remains at 11.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2007, the number of home foreclosures in Michigan hit a record high. At the time, The Washington Post quoted a research specialist at the University of Michigan, who said that "there's a structural shift going on that's undermining the unionized, industrialized states, and Michigan is leading the way."

In 2007 and 2008, Michigan's poverty rate grew each year. By 2009, according to NPR, "fourteen percent of Michigan households had incomes below the poverty line ... And one in four children in the state were living in poverty."

In 2009, when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, Michigan was hit hard. Both companies are based in the Detroit area, and the fallout included plant closures, layoffs, and an economic torpor that the state is still struggling with.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.