Playing With Numbers Again

Could these abandoned Detroit homes soon be filled?

My last post on competing Rust Belt city narratives prompted me to do a little more data investigation.  Looking at U.S. Census American Community Survey data, I found this:

“…between 2010 and 2012 the overall population of Detroit declined by 1.7%.  But the devil is in the details.  Over the same period Detroit’s white population increased by 3%, while its black population decreased by the same amount.  

That seemed like the possible beginning of a shifting story.  So I looked into racial and ethnic demographic numbers for Detroit’s usual-suspect peer cities: Buffalo, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.  I also threw Chicago in since it’s the undisputed capital of the region.  Here’s what I found:

Change in Population, 2010-12
  White Black Hispanic Other
Buffalo -0.1% -4.8% -1.3% 20.0%
Chicago 1.1% -2.0% 1.2% 8.9%
Cleveland -4.8% -0.8% 5.3% 0.6%
Detroit 3.0% -2.7% 7.7% -8.2%
Milwaukee -3.1% 1.1% 5.6% 7.1%
Pittsburgh 0.6% -5.3% 20.3% 9.9%

That is indeed the beginning of a shifting story.  If this is accurate (and caveats do apply; ACS data has been wildly variable from year to year), Detroit’s white population is growing faster than that of its close peer cities.  This is a remarkable feat, considering that Detroit’s white population decreased in every Census from 1950 to 2010, declining from 1.6 million in 1950 to just 55,000 in 2010.
I think what may be happening in Detroit doesn’t compare with the peer cities above; it probably compares more favorably to demographic changes over the last 20 years in Washington, DC (post Marion Barry and insolvency, leading to a financial control board), and the last eight years in New Orleans (post Katrina).  DC and NOLA were both heavily African-American cities hit with disaster, either financial or natural, and rebounded after hitting their nadir.  In the cities the white population has rebounded while the African-American population has either dropped (NOLA) or remained steady (DC). DC’s white population has grown at an annualized rate of more than five percent a year since 2005, while NOLA’s white population has grown at a slower 2.5 percent rate. 
A quick and easy prediction for what might lie ahead for Detroit over the next 10-20 years is something between the DC and NOLA examples.  Detroit does not have the dynamic economy that DC does, but likely does have a little more kick than NOLA.  We’ll see what happens.

One thought on “Playing With Numbers Again

  1. Interesting that the black population in the city of Pittsburgh is decreasing so fast, especially considering the black population of both Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh metropolitan area continues to increase, albeit slowly. (This sets it apart from the Cleveland and Detroit metropolitan areas, which still have decreasing black populations.) The decrease in the city probably has to do with the gentrification of Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods pushing many poor black residents out into Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg and other eastern suburbs. This began with the demolition of several Section 8 housing projects in the city in the early 2000's. From what I can tell at the metropolitan level, the increase in black population has to do with the “natural” population increase offsetting a slightly negative net migration. The fact that the net migration is negative is cause for concern, especially in contrast to the white, Hispanic and Asian populations trending positive. This could indicate that blacks are being left out of the increasing economic opportunities in the area, or that they don't feel welcome there. If either of these are true, then something's gotta change.


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