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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Pontiac selling off properties. The financially troubled city of Pontiac, Michigan, is selling most of its assets. An emergency manager appointed in 2009 says the sales are necessary to help close a $12 million budget deficit. A three-page list of property available includes five fire stations, two cemeteries, two landfills, 11 water-pumping stations, two community centers, the public library and a police station, according to the Detroit Free Press. The city’s budget has already been cut by $20 million since the emergency manager took over.

2. Art scene in Columbus barren? The streets of Columbus aren’t devoid of eye-catching artwork, writes Robert Vitale of the Columbus Dispatch, but recent attempts to add art downtown have highlighted the fact the central Ohio city’s public landscape is “relatively barren.” Vitale notes that Columbus is the nation’s 15th-largest city, but the largest without a public-art program. In examining the state of public art in the city, he writes a 2007 economic development report called for better funding of public art, but Mayor Michael B. Coleman has made “no progress” over the past two years in making that a priority.

3. Study: Residents still flee Midwest. Illinois and New Jersey sat atop a list of states with the largest outbound migration this year, according to an annual study of interstate moving trends authored by United Van Lines. Although specific numbers were not available, a synopsis of the study said Americans continue to leave the Northeast and Midwest and migrate toward the South and West. Based in St. Louis, the company has tracked interstate moves since 1977 and says its study has reflected migration trends accurately enough that financial firms and real estate companies use the data. Despite the trend for Illinois, U.S. Census estimates say the state gained 38,625 residents over the past 15 months.

The Midwest is growing at a slower pace than any region in the United States, according to new population estimates released by the Census Bureau.

The region’s population measured 67,517,954 according to numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census. Fifteen months later, estimates put the region’s population at 67,669,140.

The increase for the nine-state region of 151,186 was smaller than individual increases for California, Texas and Florida, and only slightly higher than individual increases for Georgia (128,000) and North Carolina (121,000). No Midwestern states ranked among the Top 10 fastest-growing ones.

Michigan was one of three states across the country to lose population.

The report shows the state’s population fell by 7,448 residents to 9,876,187 overall, a loss of .08 percent. The state’s population has declined since 2005, and dropped below the 10 million marker in 2009.

Minnesota was the region’s fastest-growing state, adding 40,936 residents, an increase of approximately 0.8 percent. Indiana and Iowa each posted estimated increases of 0.5 percent, while Ohio’s population increased by 8.449, an increase of 0.1 percent.

Overall, the report showed an estimated U.S. population of 311.6 million, an increase of 2.8 million over the 15-month period measured. The growth rate of 0.92 percent was the lowest measured since the mid-1940s.

“The nation’s overall growth rate is now at its lowest point since before the baby boom,” said Robert Groves, U.S. Census Bureau Director.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Dayton seeks immigrant influx. Among industrial Midwest cities seeking to stop a population hemorrhage, Dayton, Ohio hardly stands alone in its attempts to attract highly educated immigrants. What’s unusual in Dayton is that the city wants the rest of the immigrants too.  City Manager Tim Riordan tells our partner station WBEZ that welcome all immigrants regardless of skill or wealth will create “a vibrancy” in the city. Dayton’s population sank 14.8 percent over the past decade to 141,527 in the 2010 U.S. Census, a steep decline from its all-time high of 262,000 in the 1960s. Currently, foreign-born residents account for 3 percent of the city’s residents. But Riordan says newcomers are already building foundations in the western Ohio city.

2. Chrysler sales skyrocket. Driven by rising consumer confidence, Chrysler reported today that sales rose 45 percent in November year over year. Brand sales rose 92 percent thanks to increased demand for the 200 and 300 sedans, and Jeep sales increased 50 percent from November 2010. General Motors and Ford are both expected to release monthly sales numbers later today. “Consumer confidence is really what’s going to underpin us as we go into 2012, so we’re really pleased to see that showing up,” GM’s Don Johnson tells our partner Michigan Radio. Industry sales appear to be on pace for 13 million units in 2011.

3. Ohio courts Sears. Two days after Illinois lawmakers jilted Sears Holdings Corp. in its attempt to win tax incentives worth $100 million from the state, the Chicago-based company has a new suitor. Ohio has offered Sears incentives worth four times that amount to relocate its headquarters and 6,200 jobs to the Buckeye State. Texas is another state aggressively courting the company, according to the office of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. His counterpart, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined to confirm or deny an offer to Sears, joking with The Columbus Dispatch that, “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”

For many urban planners and new urbanists, the U.S. census numbers released in 2010 were demoralizing.

They had anticipated that Americans, after decades of fleeing to suburbs, would reverse that trend in the 2000s and begin returning to rebuilt cities. Instead, suburban growth increased. According to New Geography, 91 percent of growth over the decade occurred in suburbs, an increase from the 1990-2000 timespan in which 85 percent occurred in suburbs.

But there is one kernel of optimism in the numbers for city lovers: some urban cores are growing.

Writing for New Geography last week, Aaron M. Renn says in some cities “we see that over the 2000s out-migration from the core to the suburban counties was relatively flat or even declined late in the decade as general mobility declined in the Great Recession. In contrast, migration from the suburban counties to the core stayed flat or actually increased.”

He presents evidence of core growth in St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. While a fledgling revitalization in Detroit has occurred too recently to show up in census numbers to make apples-to-apples comparisons to the cities above, there’s anecdotal evidence of a similar small-scale influx.

Although Detroit’s overall population plummeted by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the census figures, the number of college-educated residents under age 35 increased downtown by 59 percent.

This past July, five of the city’s key employers announced a program that provides employees with cash incentives to move downtown, and more cash to maintain their homes once they relocate. More than 16,000 employees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, Compuware, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions are eligible.

There’s a key advantage, Renn writes, Detroit holds over other Midwestern cities that are trying to bolster their cores even as other residents leave.

“It’s possible to do things there,” he says. “In Detroit, the incapacity of the government is actually an advantage in many cases.” He says much of Chicago’s South Side shares characteristics of Detroit, but strict enforcement of arcane codes would stifle creativity and entrepreneurship. Likewise in Indianapolis, historic district restrictions force fixer-uppers to “run a costly and grueling gauntlet of variances, permits, hearings, etc.”

That doesn’t happen in Detroit.

“In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it,” Renn writes. “It is certainly easier to make things happen there than in most places.”

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Illinois learns from Israel. In a collaborative effort to learn more about green technology, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is traveling to Israel this week for what his staff has called “an educational mission.” Our partner station WBEZ says the governor will visit a company that develops automotive battery chargers and sign a water pact that encourages Illinois and Israel to work jointly on clean-water issues.

2. Median income falls in Michigan. Numbers released from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show the median income for Michigan households plunged by more than $9,000 over the past decade, according to partner station Michigan Radio. Adjusted for inflation, the median income in 2000 was $54,651. By 2009, the amount had fallen to $45,255.

3. Home sales inch upward. Existing home sales rose 1 percent across the Midwest in June, according to data released by the National Association of Realtors on Wednesday. Sales reached 1.04 million, but remain 14 percent below June 2010 levels. The median Midwest price fell to $147,700, down 5.3 percent, year over year.

From 2000 to 2009, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. lost 2.1 percent of its population, according to census data. That statistic is not refuted. Does that population loss merit a label of a “dying city?”

That’s an entirely different question.

In January, Newsweek listed Grand Rapids as one of its top 10 dying cities. It’s one of three Michigan cities to make the dubious list. But residents of the west Michigan city – Grand Rapidians? – did not appreciate the designation.

Citizens went on the offensive Thursday, responding with a lip-dubbedYouTube video set to the tune of Don MacLean’s “American Pie” that highlights some recent vibrant civic additions and hundreds of residents.

The video has become a gathering point for civic pride in the city and online, a development not unlike the good feelings Eminem’s Chrysler commercial conjured in Detroit following the Super Bowl.

Following the release of the video, Newsweek distanced itself from the “dying” remarks. On its Facebook page, saying that it had picked up the content from and does not agree with the remarks.

“It uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids,” the magazine wrote in a statement.

Hard to Count: The Barbara in Southwest Detroit

DETROIT — Imagine trying to prove that thousands of people exist, when you have no idea who they are.

That’s the dilemma facing officials who think their communities were undercounted in the 2010 Census.  But for Midwest cities preparing to challenge those numbers: How do you find people the Census Bureau missed?  We went looking for answers in Detroit.

When Detroit’s numbers came out in March, Mayor Dave Bing quickly summoned the press.  The tone was crisis — as if a natural disaster had struck.  And in a way, it had.  Detroit had lost a quarter of its people over the last ten years.

As cameras whirred, the mayor explained that Detroit’s population now stood at 713,777. 

“Personally I don’t believe the number is accurate,” he said.  “And I don’t believe it will stand up as we go through with our challenge.”

Cleveland, Akron and Cincinnati are also considering challenges.  That’s because people equal money – as in funding from the federal government.  And as long as Detroit remained a big city with more than 750,000 people, state law allowed it to do things like charge higher taxes.  That brought in millions more every year.

“We are in a fiscal crisis and we have to fight for every dollar.  We can’t afford to let these results stand,” said Bing.

So now Detroit wants to find almost 40,000 more people and prove that the Census missed them.  That’s like finding the entire population of Muskegon or Moline inside Detroit.

But former Census workers like Mark Dancey already know they missed people.  Detroit is hard to count. 

“I had the situation where I knock on the door and I see ‘em running out the back door,” he said.  Well, “Not running, just sneaking.”

Dancey worked his own neighborhood of Southwest Detroit for the Census.  He said people mostly cooperated.  But take this one building, The Barbara.  Forty-six units.  Dancey waited outside at least a dozen times, until someone let him in.  Then he’d knock and he’d knock.

Either people would say, ‘No, I won’t talk to you,’” he said.  “Or, they’d yell through the door, ‘Come back later.’  Some people would just open the door and just say, ‘No, I’m not going to talk to you.’  Slam the door.”

Silas White has lived in The Barbara for two years.  He said he never got a Census form in the mail, never saw a Census worker.

The building’s front door swings open freely.  That’s because the door handle and the lock have been busted off.  White unlocked an inner door to show me inside.

The Barbara, he said, is, “Kindof rough.  I mean, it’s a die -hard building, you know, but it’s not too much trouble.  But we didn’t get counted.”

There are more than 300 million people in the United States.  Census Director Robert Groves freely acknowledges that it’s hard to count them all.  When questionnaires didn’t come back in the mail, he sent enumerators to visit 47 million households as many as six times.

“But what we can’t do if you think about it is reconstruct the world as it was on April 1, 2010,” he said.

So, Detroit can’t just produce a list of names like Silas White and say, “Trust us, they were here.”  To challenge, cities and towns have to show processing errors.  Like, was a boundary inaccurate?  Did group quarters like prisons and nursing homes get put on the wrong block?  Groves said that in the 2000 Census, a lot of Michiganders did get counted in the wrong place. 

But, he said, “The net of a whole lot of changes was that the state added 36 people to its population.”

Illinois gained 354 people. Ohio added five. 

The results of the Decennial Census can be difficult to change.  It’s much easier for local jurisdictions to challenge the population estimates that come out between official counts.  The criterion is different, which is how Detroit added tens of thousands of people to its 2006 population estimate.  Only the official count is used for things like the reapportionment of the House of Representatives.

But the challenge isn’t stopping Detroit now.  Over at the planning department, they’re just getting started.  So John Baran’s been staring at a map showing population change across the city. 

He’s spotted an inconsistency right downtown.

“The census track 5172 which is very purple on that map there, lost 1,400 people, but only lost 60 housing units,” he said.  “The math doesn’t work out.  There weren’t 1,400 people in 60 housing units.”

He suspects the county jail was missed, or maybe a dormitory.  Big stuff.  But mostly, the city will have to go block by block and show that the Census made mistakes, like deleting housing units from its files that were actually still there.  So can you produce 40,000 people that way?

“It’d be quite challenging to produce 40,000 people through a housing challenge,” Baran said. 

But isn’t that the goal?

“The goal is to get an accurate count,” he said.  “And make sure everyone in the city was counted.” 

Still, somewhere close to 237,000 people left Detroit over the last ten years.  Why did they leave?  And what will it take to keep people here?  These questions will persist long after the Census’s Count Question Resolution Program begins accepting challenges on June 1st.

Personal income per capita has grown nationwide over the last ten years by 5.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Yet, Americans are not really any better off, because that growth is due to an increase in tax-exempt benefits. That’s what Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Labor, Economics, and the Economy has found. For a look at how Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio residents are faring, scroll to the graphs below.

Tax exempt benefits, also known as nontaxable transfer payments, include programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance, unemployment, welfare and disability benefits provided by the government and employers. It you subtract those nontaxable transfer payments from the equation, U.S. income actually decreased. In fact, U.S. taxable income per capita fell by 3.4 percent, from $32,403 in 2000 to $31,303 by 2010.

Grimes said the personal income data as calculated by the BEA is misleading, “because it’s including all of these transfer payments and so it’s essentially artificially inflating our sense of well-being.”

Grimes said the bad news does not end there. Nontaxable transfer payments continue to grow, while taxable income continues to shrink. Essentially, more and more people are relying on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, while the population paying for those programs is shrinking.

He said if this trend continues, “we would eventually end up in a crisis where all of the earned income is taxed in order to pay for the transfer benefits. At some point the benefits that people are getting in terms of transfer payments has to grow at a much smaller rate. It’s sad, but it’s just a mathematical inevitability.”

Grimes said even returning to 2000 level tax rates, before the tax cuts imposed by former President George Bush and extended by President Barack Obama, would not be enough.

The situation may be even worse in the Midwest. Even before the recession, the region has struggled with attracting and keeping its youth, while the older population is increasingly relying on those nontaxable transfer payments like Medicare and Medicaid. Around our region, that disparity between the number of people relying on nontaxable transfer payments and the number people paying for those programs is growing especially quickly.

Grimes predicts some painful decisions have to be made on the Federal level very soon to answer his question, “where are we going to get the money to pay these transfer payments?”

You can see some of the data Grimes collected in some maps below. “Modified personal income” equals personal income with social insurance taxes (such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid) added back in. Be sure to play around with the data through time by changing the year in the bottom left drop down menu.







For almost a half century last century, Detroit was a boom town. Between 1910 and 1950, few cities grew faster, were wealthier, were more attractive to those seeking success than what became known as the Motor City.

Detroit in its heyday

But for the past 60 years, the decline has been long and relatively slow — until the year 2000. Since then, Detroit has lost one-quarter of its population, as the 2010 census figures released on Tuesday showed. The decline was equal to one departee every 22 minutes, according to PBS Newshour.

The reasons for its decline are numerous, but can be summed up in two words: jobs, and demographics. In 1950, when Detroit had 1.8 million people, about 200,000 were employed in manufacturing, according to Kevin Boyle, the author and professor of history at Ohio State University, who is a native Detroiter. That was about one of out every 10 people in the city.

Now, fewer than 20,000 of Detroit’s remaining 714,000 people work in manufacturing, or about one in 50 residents.

Sixty years ago, car makers from Chrysler to Cadillac, Studebaker to Dodge had plants in or near the city limits. There were hundreds more parts plants, steel mills, foundries and parts depots, where the products built in Detroit factories were sorted and sent on to the vast networks operated by the auto companies across the country. People in all parts of the city could walk to work, or take a streetcar or bus. Some of them chose to drive, because they earned enough to afford to vehicles they were making (something their parents and grandparents might not have been able to do).

Professor Boyle says that in Detroit’s glory years, from 1910 to 1950, the city was a boom town, equal to any of the gold rush towns of the American West.

It has a mirror in Calumet, Mich., known as Copper Town, which swelled in population as high as 70,000 people between the late 1800s and early 1900s when people from all over the country swarmed there to work in the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula. (Legend has it that in 1910, one out of every 10 people in Calumet was a millionaire.)

Visit Calumet, now a town of 799, and the mansions built by those mining barons remain, as does the impressive opera house. But like Detroit, it is another ghost town with a glorious past.

Now, there are just two big car factories left in Detroit, Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant on the east side, and General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant just north of I-94. While some of those smaller factories remain, dozens are empty, their structures dotting the city’s landscape like dandelions on a spring lawn. All that  presents an enormous challenge to Mayor Dave Bing in his efforts to reinvent the city.

Some of that job decline actually was due to the auto companies’ growth strategies. From the 1940s to the 1990s, the auto companies branched out across the country, pursuing a strategy of building vehicles closer to their customers. The jobs that might automatically have gone to Detroit, or in G.M.’s case, to Flint, Mich., instead went to places such as Doraville, Ga., Framingham, Mass., Tarrytown, N.Y., St. Louis, Fremont, Calif., and elsewhere.

Many of those outlying factories are now closed, too, but there was a key difference. A car plant was part of those places’ economy, not its sole focus. In Detroit, the car plants and everything they fed became the dominant force.

Beyond the job loss, demographics played a role in the shift away from Detroit. A century ago, as planners were looking at where the city could grow, they envisioned three centers of commerce: downtown, the New Center area about 10 minutes drive north, and a third area in northwest Detroit, the area known as Palmer Woods.

The first two areas, and surrounding neighborhoods, filled in by World War II and the thought was that the third area, from New Center to the city’s northwest boundaries, would then come to life after the war.

But as veterans returned, and their families were born, the suburbs beckoned. Rather than move back to their city neighborhoods, they headed beyond Detroit’s borders. That demographic change, as much as the “white flight” so talked about after the Detroit riots of 1967, had an equally important influence on the city’s drop in population.

Mayor Dave Bing. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Those shifts were underway well before 2000. They help explain what led up to the latest, and stunning drop, in the city’s population. But why leave now? And where did those people go?

Those are questions we will be looking at over the next few weeks at Changing Gears.


TALK TO US: If you’ve left Detroit in the past 10 years, we’d like to hear from you. Where are you living now? Why did you leave? If you’re still there, tell us why, too, and what you’d like to see happen in your city. Leave your comments here or email us at ChangingGears at

Special thanks to Jalopnik for republishing this article.

 The U-S Census Bureau released the latest population count for Michigan this week. And, like other places in the Midwest, Michigan’s biggest cities shed population.

Downtown Detroit. Photo by David Tansey.

Chicago’s population declined by almost seven percent in the 2010 census numbers, and Cleveland’s dropped by about 17 percent. But Detroit lost a quarter of its population over the last ten years.

It now has the same population that it had in 1910, before the auto industry boom. Robert Ficano, the Executive for Wayne County, home to Detroit, said, “now’s not the time to look in the rear view mirror, now’s the time to look in the future and say ‘ok, what do we do to recover and what do we do to stabilize ourselves here?’”

Ficano said he’s not surprised by the population decline, given what’s happened to the auto industry. He said going forward, economic diversification is key to Detroit’s success.

A few Midwest cities gained population, including Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana.

View Midwest Census 2010 Results in a larger map