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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At last, Detroit sees population grow, new estimates show

Downtown Detroit is seen on April 16, 2024. City leaders have long promised to reverse Detroit’s long population decline brought on by the shrinking of the auto industry, flight to the suburbs and municipal bankruptcy. (Nic Antaya/The New York Times)

By Julie Bosman

After decades of painful decline, Detroit’s population grew in 2023, according to new estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

The increase — to 633,218 from 631,366 residents — was slight, lifting Detroit to slightly below levels of 2021. But the symbolism was meaningful in a city that had hollowed out, year after year, since the days when more than 1.8 million people lived there. City leaders have long promised to reverse Detroit’s long decline in residents brought on by the shrinking of the auto industry, flight to the suburbs and municipal bankruptcy.

The new census estimates showed similar, moderate population rebounds for many big cities in the Midwest and Northeast after previous pandemic-era declines.

In the Northeast, cities with populations of 50,000 or more grew by an average of 0.2% after declining an average of 0.3% in 2022. In the Midwest, cities of that size grew 0.1% in 2023 after declining an average of 0.2% the year before.

Some major cities that saw population dips in 2021 — including New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — largely returned to pre-pandemic trends, with increased rates of growth and smaller population declines than during the pandemic.

“We know that people moved out of bigger cities and into smaller cities during the pandemic,” said Andrew Beveridge, the president of Social Explorer, a demographic firm. “That’s abated somewhat.”

Robust growth in cities in the South and Sun Belt continued in 2023, with Southern cities growing an average of 1%.

“Thirteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities were in the South, with eight in Texas alone,” Crystal Delbé, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s population division, said in a statement.

The largest 15 cities in 2023 stayed the same as in 2022, though some moved up or down on the list: Jacksonville, Florida, climbed higher than Austin, Texas; and Fort Worth, Texas, grew larger than San Jose, California.

Midsize cities, with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 people, saw growth in every region but the Northeast.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said that the new population estimate for his city was the first time since 1957 that the Census Bureau has not found the city to have lost population. According to census estimates, Detroit is now the 26th most populous city in the nation, up from the 29th in 2022. Decades ago, the city was the nation’s fourth most populous.

The administration of Duggan, who was elected mayor in 2013 and is serving his third term, has in the past raised questions about the Census Bureau’s population counts in Detroit, claiming that city residents were undercounted. For Duggan, the new population estimate fulfills a campaign promise he made before his first term to get the city growing again.

“I have said all along, a mayor ought to be judged by whether the population is going up or going down,” he said in an interview. “It took me longer to get there than I hoped.”

Duggan said that while Detroit is still facing some of the same challenges — like faltering demand for office space — that many larger cities are, the population growth is the result of years of steady, difficult work.

In the past decade, more than 10,000 houses have been renovated, property values have gone up, and a new auto plant to produce Jeeps was built in the city.

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