Playing With Numbers: Detroit Version

New Detroit City Council Districts.  City Council members will be elected by district this fall for the first time in a century.  Source: Data Driven Detroit.

I play around with numbers.  A lot.  I’m no math genius, but I do use numbers to forecast, predict and extrapolate all sorts of things.  As the college football season approaches, I’ve been doing my calculations to figure out just how good this year’s Michigan Wolverine football squad (Team 134!) will be.

Recently I took that approach to making some educated guesses on the future of Detroit’s population.  Starting with a base of data from Data Driven Detroit, I took a stab at estimating decennial population through 2050.  I tried to do it within the context of a couple additional factors – 1) Data Driven Detroit provides population data for the newly-formed seven council districts, where city council members will be elected by district in Detroit later this fall for the first time in more than a century, and 2) an estimate of the racial and ethnic breakdown of each district and the entire city.
Admittedly the numbers are pure conjecture.  There are any number of factors that impact demographic change, and no one knows for sure which factor will be the leading indicator that creates future change.  But I made my projections using my best guess of the extrapolation of current trends.  They are:
·         Middle class families will continue their withdrawal from Detroit, particularly from the city’s peripheral districts (districts 1, 3, 4, and 7);
·         Growth, and racial/ethnic change, will be concentrated in the city’s core districts near and around downtown (districts 2, 5, and 6);
·         The restructuring and reorganization associated with Detroit’s current bankruptcy will have some negative short term impact on population, but an overall positive long term impact as service provision improves.
My hunch has been that at the same time that white former suburban residents are rediscovering the merits of urban living in greater numbers, black longtime city residents are making the decision to move outward to suburban locales.  What do my numbers say?
Year
Pop.
Chg.
2010
713,777
2020
577,800
-19.1%
2030
538,500
-6.8%
2040
589,000
9.4%
2050
649,500
10.3%
These numbers suggest that the steep decline Detroit witnessed since 2000 (down 25% through 2010) would continue through the current decade, but slow considerably after 2020.  The Motor City would, in this scenario, achieve a low population of 538,500 in 2030, a number it hasn’t seen since shortly after 1910.  However, modest increases in 2040 and 2050 would bring that number up to nearly 650,000 by the middle of the 21stcentury, to a level roughly equal to the current estimated population of the city.
How does that happen?  A look at racial and ethnic dynamics in this scenario shows how:
2010
2020
2030
2040
2050
White
55,652
66,500
105,000
151,500
191,500
Black
586,548
430,000
325,000
295,000
290,000
Hispanic
48,656
54,300
72,000
95,500
108,000
Other
20,582
24,500
33,500
44,000
56,000
713,777
577,800
538,500
589,000
649,500
On a percentage basis that change would look like this:
2010
2020
2030
2040
2050
White
7.8%
11.5%
19.5%
25.7%
29.5%
Black
82.2%
74.4%
60.4%
50.1%
44.6%
Hispanic
6.8%
9.4%
13.4%
16.2%
16.6%
Other
2.9%
4.2%
6.2%
7.5%
8.6%
Could this be the actual future of Detroit?  I have no clue.  I will admit this could be threatening to those committed to the idea of Detroit remaining a black majority city, but it’s fair to say that recent changes could steer the city in this direction.  If anyone is looking for a comparable city, I’d say the growth and demographic change of Washington, DC may be the model for Detroit, albeit at a much slower pace (unless a new economic driver takes hold and thrives).

My guess is as good as any.  This is just playing with numbers.

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