Population Gains And Losses: Where People Come From, And Where They Go

Population Gains And Losses: Where People Come From, And Where They Go

(Kurt Metzger, June 28, 2021)

Oakland County, MI- The Census Bureau produces annual population estimates for all counties in the United States.  These estimates incorporate a number of factors, including births, deaths, migration within the United States (domestic migration) and international migration (immigration).  [While the Bureau has recently produced 2020 estimates for use in judging the accuracy of the 2020 Census, the fact that they show a population loss for Oakland County, coupled with the fact that the associated state population is more than 100,000 less than the actual census count, leads me to stick with the last release for 2019.]

The population of Oakland County is estimated to have increased by 55,222 residents (4.6 percent) between 2010 and 2019.  Three quarters of this increase occurred between 2010 and 2015, as growth has slowed substantially in the last several years.  A brief look at the “components of change” allow us to understand why this trend is occurring.  The total number of births have been decreasing over the decade, with 2019’s total being the smallest number of births since 1951!  On the other hand, an aging population is leading to an increase in the number of deaths.  2019’s total was the highest of this decade, as well as any other decade since the county was founded.

Immigration has been critical to Oakland County’s growth, but immigration policies during the Trump presidency have brought those numbers to their lowest levels in recent years.  Our final component is domestic migration.  The first chart illustrates the annual change this decade.  After achieving the status of a net in-migrant county for the first 3 years of the decade, Oakland has experienced a steady net out-migration in every year since.

The data behind the domestic migration estimates are developed by the Internal Revenue Service.  In comparing federal tax returns from year to year, IRS can determine who moved and where.  Once analyzed, IRS produces an annual migration file that shows state-to-migration (where Michigan residents moved, and from where new Michigan residents lived prior), as well as county-to-county migration patterns.

The 2018-19 file was just released a week ago and I have analyzed it to understand from where Oakland County is gaining residents and what counties are benefiting from the arrival of former residents.  In total, the IRS documents a net domestic loss of 4,984 residents between the income tax filings of 2018 and 2019. The second chart shows the counties with the largest contributions – both positive and negative.  You will find only one non-Michigan County in the mix – Maricopa, Arizona (does Cyber Ninjas tell you why?).  While I can assure you that Oakland County residents also headed to Florida counties for retirement, none came out with a net of 100 persons or more.

What this chart clearly shows is that there is a great deal of movement within the Detroit metropolitan area. [How many data points must I produce to demonstrate the importance of REGIONALISM?]  Wayne County as the primary contributor to Oakland has been the case for years, and has been a major contributor to Oakland County’s increasing African American population.  While contributing to some of the Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern growth as well, their primary path is through immigration.  The primary destinations for those leaving the county are the border counties of Genesee, Livingston and Macomb.  These moves tend to be housing-related, rather than employment-related.  Oakland County continues to be the dominant employment magnet in the state, with large numbers of neighboring county residents commuting in to Oakland daily for work.  However, the cost of land and housing (and local taxes) in Oakland tends to be higher.

While we await the final 2020 Census numbers, there are ways that those concerned with maintaining populations levels can help.  Issues that impact population shifts include addressing the issues of an aging population, a very slowly growing workforce, decreasing births, increasing deaths, and increasing out-migration.

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