The City of Detroit has been the topic of a few blogposts on Demography is Destiny over the last few years (see here, here, here and here). Over the last few decades the city has seen an unprecedented population decline that has resulted in economic collapse as the city authorities can no longer afford basic services for many areas of the patchily-occupied city.

However, amongst this bleak picture, there seems to be some good news: the reversal of the “white flight” from Detroit for the first time in decades. In 1950 there were over 1.5million white people in Detroit representing around 84 percent of the population. By 2010, this number had dropped to 55,298, a drop of 97% in 60 years. Since the bottom in 2010, Detroit’s white population has increased to 69,588 in 2014 or around 10.2 percent of the population. This included an increase of nearly 8,000 last year which is “the first significant increase since 1950” according Detroit News.

“Many local leaders contend halting Detroit’s population loss is crucial, and the new census data shows that policies to lure people back to the city may be helping stem the city’s decline.

‘Detroit was at the extreme edge of white flight for so long, it’s certainly noteworthy,’ said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. ‘I wouldn’t want to overstate it, but, something is percolating and it’s worth seeing what’s propelling it.’”

Although this news is potentially encouraging, overall the situation in Detroit is still grim. The population is still shrinking – an influx of white residents cannot currently make up for the decline in the black and Hispanic populations.  In 2014 the population stood at 680,281, a decline of 8,459 residents from the year before (about a 1% drop). The loss from 2012 to 2013 was greater at 12,784 residents, perhaps suggesting that overall the decline is slowing.  

Further, as the historian and Detroit-native, professor Kevin Boyle notes:

“The last thing I want to do is dampen the good news, but the problem is Detroit is still the poorest city in the U.S. The city hasn’t turned the corner until that changes.”

Nearly 40 percent of the Detroit population lives below the poverty line of an income of $24,008 for a family of four. Many families are in danger of losing their homes:

“The census data release comes at the same time that Wayne County is auctioning off a record number of tax foreclosures, nearly 28,000 properties. The vast majority are in Detroit. An estimated 8,000 are occupied homes, according to data company Loveland Technologies.

Nonprofit organizations say they are stretched thin trying to help people stay in their homes.

‘I have been overwhelmed since January,’ said Ted Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit United Community Housing Coalition.”

Further, it seems that while some neighbourhoods (Midtown, downtown, Woodbridge) are seeing development and support by private-public partnerships to lure residents, other neighbourhoods are feeling neglected.

“‘You are creating lopsided communities,’ said Yusef Shakur, a community organizer with the group Restoring the Neighborhood back to the Hood. ‘You are putting all your wealth in Midtown, downtown … Woodbridge. It’s not creating an even playing field.’”

As some long-term Detroit residents claim, while recently arrived whites are often portrayed as the city’s “saviours”, the comeback has been wildly uneven.

So while there might be some shreds of good news in the latest population figures out of Detroit, it would be an understatement to say that there is a long way to go before we will see meaningful recovery in the city.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...