The United States Census Bureau released data from the 2020 census on Sept. 16, providing updated demographics of residents across the country and illustrating the United States’ growth over the past 10 years. This information is used to determine many financial and political policy changes, most notably the apportionment of representation in the U.S. legislature.
The country experienced 7.4% growth in the overall population between 2010 and 2020. Michigan was one of the slowest growing states, with a population growth rate of only 2%. This is an increase from 2000 to 2010, when Michigan experienced a population decline of 0.6%.
Even with the state’s population increase, the new census figures caused Michigan to lose a seat in the U.S. Congress. In a state as politically divided as Michigan, redistricting certain areas can significantly impact the overall vote.
Michigan has been divided along partisan lines in recent years, making the state important in presidential elections. In 2012, Michigan’s electoral votes went to former president Barack Obama, but the state voted Republican when it elected former President Donald Trump in 2016. The electoral votes again went Democratic in 2020, with President Joe Biden winning the November election.
Reynolds Farley, research professor at the Population Studies Center and professor in the Ford School of Public Policy, said Michigan’s slowed population growth is part of an ongoing trend.
“We grew at about two-tenths of 1% in the course of the decade, and there were only four states that were more slow-growing than the state of Michigan,” Farley said. “You can see that Michigan grew very rapidly during the early automobile age, and then Michigan grew very rapidly during World War Two and for a decade or two after … because of manufacturing in Michigan, but since that time Michigan has grown very slowly compared to the rest of the nation.”
According to Farley, some of Michigan’s slow population increase is due to the state’s age demographics. About 25% of Michigan’s population is older than 60, with the average age of Michigan residents being 39.8 years. This is the highest average age the state has ever seen.
“There are now 47 of our 83 counties here in Michigan in which deaths are more numerous than births,” Farley said. “That means the population is pretty darn old. Young people have left, so there are now numerically more deaths than births in most Michigan counties.”
For counties that lean heavily toward one political party, as Washtenaw County does, redistricting — or redrawing congressional districts to reflect updated population counts — can significantly impact electoral outcomes. Farley said partisan divides can lead to those in the ideological minority often feeling as if they do not have valuable representation in elections.
“One strategy (when drawing districts) is to pack all the Democrats in some districts, and the Republicans in the other district,” Farley said. “And that means if you’re a Republican who is in a district which was packed full of Democrats, you’re not going to have very much voice … And then if you create districts that are 45% Democratic, 55% Republican, that’s where the interesting situations arise.”
The state is expected to release redistricting changes in May 2022, ahead of the Michigan gubernatorial election in Nov. 2022.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission held their first in a series of campus meetings around the state at the University of Michigan earlier this month. The committee discussed how to manage communities of interest — those with special circumstances, lifestyles or cultures — and their role in the redistricting process. The meeting also held a series of public commentary sessions where community members discussed their own concerns about the redistricting process in their communities.
Greta Kruse, LSA senior and co-chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, spoke at the commission’s event about the importance of remaining bipartisan in the redistricting process.
“I came to speak to the commission today because I wanted to emphasize the importance (of) partisan fairness when drawing the new regional districts,” Kruse said. “And moreover, it is no small thing to me that I feel like my vote is not going anywhere.”
Five counties in Michigan exceeded the 7.4% population growth rate of the country, including Washtenaw County, which experienced an 8% population growth rate, according to Farley. The county reached an official population of 372,258 in 2020.
Farley noted that much of the population increase in Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor is due to the number of jobs the University of Michigan provides.
Washtenaw County is also Michigan’s most educated county, with 95.3% of residents older than 25 years old holding a high school diploma or higher and 55.9% of residents over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Washtenaw County’s percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree is significantly higher than the average percentage of Michigan residents.
In terms of race in the census, Farley said there is a national and state-level increase in people identifying as more than one race, which he expects to continue in the coming years.
Kristin Seefeldt, associate professor in the School of Social Work, told The Michigan Daily the pandemic impacted the 2020 census as well as statewide poverty levels.
Seefeldt said she thinks the financial impact of the pandemic in Michigan was lessened due to policy changes such as stimulus checks and unemployment protection passed at a federal and state level, though the pandemic still influenced poverty levels in the state. A report from March found that about 38% of households in Michigan do not earn enough for basic necessities.
“(From the data we have so far), we actually see that all of the pandemic relief efforts really made a difference and poverty actually goes down under that measure,” Seefeldt said. “So if we count those benefits, we can really see that poverty wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We still have, you know, a poverty rate near 10%, but these policy changes really did make a positive impact.”
Daily Staff Reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at email@example.com.