Detroit made the news a few years ago for its declining population and economic malaise. In 2013 it became famous for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. The population had declined by 30% in the two decades prior to 2012 and was sitting at around 700,000. As we blogged about at the time, the city has faced neighbourhoods abandoned, high crime rates and large public service bills being shared around fewer rate payers.

But how has the city fared since then? Well, news out of the city is good or bad, depending how you spin it (and as we’ve seen over the last few years, that is true of all news…) According to Detroit News “the city’s population loss has slowed to its lowest pace in decades” which sounds pretty positive doesn’t it? In summer 2016, the population was 672,795: a loss from the year before of 3,541 residents. This decline was nearly identical to that of a year before: 3,573. (To put the slide in perspective, the city’s population peaked at nearly 1.9 million in 1950.) So one could say that the rate of population decline has plateaued, or even that is has slowed to its lowest pace “in decades”. But of course, this relatively low number of residents leaving the city/dying and not being replaced is coming from a smaller pool, so if the absolute number is plateauing then the proportion of the population is actually increasing. But this is not what the Mayor Mike Duggan (who predicted/expected that the city would be growing in his first term wants to hear). So the Duggan administration stressed that the data is from summer last year, is nearly a year old and that things are “trending in the right direction”. The administration cites building permits, home prices and 3,000 more occupied residences reported by DTE Energy in the year to March. The Mayor’s chief of staff also put out the line that this decline is among the lowest in more than 50 years.

This other news story is less sanguine about the news and isn’t falling in behind the city hall’s interpretation. It notes that the population decline is still at 0.5% per cent per year. In the meantime the city is now smaller than Boston and Washington DC and is the 23rd largest in the nation. Only one of the top 25 most populous cities in the USA lost population since 2010 and that was Detroit. But then again, perhaps the data is a year out of date and the corner is about to be turned…let’s wait and see.

Marcus Roberts

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...