Census Figures Show Detroit's Utter Devastation
Down 61 Percent Since 1950

The Census Bureau has released the county and major city population figures for my home state of Michigan, and the big news is the stunning loss of population in Detroit, as this Wall Street Journal article indicates.

The April 1, 2010 figure for Detroit was 713,777--down from 951,270 in 2000. That’s a population loss of 25% in a single decade, substantially greater than for any other city in this period except hurricane-devastated New Orleans, whose percentage population loss of 29% was not all that much greater.

Fully one-fifth of the housing units in Detroit are vacant, and of course many more have simply disappeared. I was in kindergarten in Detroit in April 1950, when the Census Bureau count for the city was 1,849,568. In the intervening 60 years the city’s population has declined by 1,135,791 people. The city’s population is down 61% in those years. When people ask me why I moved from being a liberal to being a conservative, my single-word answer is Detroit. The liberal policies which I hoped would make Detroit something like heaven have made it instead something more like hell.

The huge population loss in Detroit obviously has ramifications for congressional redistricting. Michigan lost one House seat in the reapportionment following the 2010 Census, and Republicans now hold the governorship and large majorities in the state legislature and so will control redistricting for the second census cycle in a row. Of the current 15 districts, the biggest population losses have come in the two Detroit-based black-majority districts, the 13th represented by freshman Hansen Clarke and the 14th represented by John Conyers, the second most senior member of the House.

One logical way to redistrict would be to combine most of the 13th and 14th into a single district with a large black majority. But that’s unlikely to happen for two reasons. First, Republicans would be subjected to great opprobrium for ousting a black member of Congress. Second, Republicans have an incentive to put as many black voters as possible into overwhelmingly Democratic districts so as to reduce the Democratic percentages in adjacent districts.

What this means is two of the four suburban Detroit districts will essentially be merged. Two are represented by very senior Democrats--the 15th by John Dingell, the senior member of the House, and the 12th by Sander Levin, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. The 11th is represented by Republican Thaddeus McCotter, who won 59%-38% in 2010, and the 9th by Democrat Gary Peters, who won by only 50%-47% in 2010. McCotter looked to be in trouble after the 2008 election, which he won by 54%-43% and in which Democrats gained a seemingly invulnerable 67-43 majority in the state House of Representatives, which seemed to guarantee them a veto on congressional redistricting. But in 2010 Republicans made huge gains and the House is now 63-47 Republican. So it looks like Peters will be the odd man out, with Republican portions of his district going to McCotter and Democratic portions to Levin.

Some historic perspective: in the redistricting following the 1960 Census, four congressional districts were wholly or almost entirely within the city of Detroit. Now Detroit has just slightly more people than a single congressional district.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons/stan

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