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Michigan population woes persist: Thousands leave for Sun Belt, Census shows

three moving trucks
Michigan’s net migration — the number of people who left the state compared to those who came — decreased 15,000 from 2020 to 2021, Census figures estimate. (Susan B Sheldon /
  • Michigan had a net loss of nearly 15,000 people from 2020 to 2021, down from just over 20,000 from 2018 to 2019.
  • The Sun Belt continued to attract residents, including big losses to Florida, North Carolina and Texas
  • The data confirms other estimates and lends weight to ramped up efforts to tackle population as a statewide policy issue.

Michigan’s population struggles continued after the pandemic eased, as nearly 15,000 people moved to other states from 2020 to 2021, new Census Bureau data shows.

Even so, that was an improvement from the estimated net loss of 20,357 residents to other states from 2018 to 2019.


The new numbers released Thursday show Michigan continues to lose the battle with the Sun Belt, with a net loss of over 11,000 residents to Florida, 4,700 to North Carolina and 3,400 to Texas.


Michigan had net gains from other states — including an estimated 3,034 from New York and nearly 2,600 from Illinois — but the overall total was a net loss.

Michigan’s population remains about 10 million, and has lost 43,200 residents from 2020 to 2022, according separate Census estimates. The bureau estimates Detroit’s population has fallen to 620,000, making it the 29th biggest city in the nation. It had been the nation’s eighth-largest city as recently as 1998.

The latest data on migration are estimates based on responses to the annual American Community Survey taken by an estimated 2 million households nationwide each year. Each year the Census asks respondents where they lived a year earlier.

The Census did not estimate migration from 2019 to 2020 because of the pandemic. 

The results come as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer makes population a centerpiece of policy discussions, naming a “chief growth officer” and appointing two others to lead a 28-member group to tackle population growth. 

Population concerns dominated the recent Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, where Whitmer announced the “Growing Michigan Together Council” that is expected to focus on jobs, talent and people as well as infrastructure and education.

The goal of the business, labor and education officials on the council is to jump-start stagnant population trends.

Since 1990, Michigan has ranked 49th out of 50 for population growth. Michigan is hampered by an aging population in which deaths now exceed births, with a net loss of domestic migration.

The latest data adds to the concerns about how the state can prosper with a shrinking workforce.

The numbers show that Michigan continues to lose population to:

  • Florida, where an estimated 24,500 moved in 2021, compared to 13,202 Floridians moving to Michigan. The net loss of 11,304, however, was slightly lower than the net of 11,727 from 2018 to 2019, the last time the Census produced one-year migration estimates.
  • North Carolina, with a net loss of 4,695. That’s substantially higher than the 3,331 net loss detected in 2019.
  • Texas, with a net loss of 3,420, up from 2,627 in 2019.
  • Ohio, with a net loss of 3,272. States typically trade back and forth with neighbors but the loss to Ohio is greater than the 1,788 loss estimated in 2019. Census reported a net gain for Michigan from Ohio in 2016 and 2017 before recording net losses in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Because it is a survey, there can be big margins of error and just a few respondents can be extrapolated into moves between states.


For instance, the Census estimates that 519 people moved to Maine — but the margin of error is plus or minus 716, meaning as many as 1,200 moved there or none.

Still, for larger states like Florida and North Carolina, the margins are far lower and the patterns detected reflect what earlier surveys and estimates have found: Michigan continues to lose people to other states.

One possible silver lining: The estimates indicate Michigan is a lure from once-popular destinations, including Minnesota (from a loss of 1,359 in 2019 to a gain of 1,279 in 2021), Arizona (from loss of 4,467 to a gain of 609) and Colorado (loss of 642 to a gain of 943).

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