Michigan loses 14K people a year to other states. It could be worse (and has)

  • Michigan has had a net loss of over 43,000 to other states since 2020, with Florida the biggest gainer
  • But the rate of losses is slowing. Previous years have been far worse
  • Half of the adults who leave have a college degree and the losses could hurt the state as it tries to grow economy

Michigan has lost the equivalent of a standing-room only crowd at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, 43,200 people, to other states since 2020, recent Census data shows.

Believe it or not, that’s relatively good news.

The rate of migration to other states appears to be slowing, down to about 14,000 residents per year from 26,000 per year to 2010 to 2019, and 54,000 people per year from 2000 to 2009.


That’s the glass half-full interpretation of Census data, released in December and last week, that continue to underscore Michigan’s population struggles.

The glass half-empty version? Both U-Haul and Atlas Van Lines said in January that Michigan was in the Top 5 for the highest percentage of one-way trips out of state in 2022.

Census data suggests Michigan retirees continue to leave for the Sun Belt, while educated workers are moving to places like Washington, North Carolina and Virginia. They leave behind a state that may be at or near its population peak, amid worries that the lack of people — and workers — will hurt the economy.

“I think there is a huge implication for our labor force,” said Xuan Liu, a demographer and director of research at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

The new numbers come as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others introduce new programs to increase Michigan’s rate of college education, which stands at 31.7 percent, ranked 32nd nationally and below the U.S. rate of 35 percent.

But trends show that those who are leaving Michigan are predominantly younger people with college degrees: just over half of adults who left Michigan in the past two years had at least a bachelor degree, according to Census data analyzed by Bridge.

And movers are far younger. The median age in Michigan is 40.6 years old, one of the oldest in the nation. But the median age of those who leave the state is 29.3 years.

Those younger people are more likely to have children and without those who move — and the children they’ll have in other states —  Michigan’s economy could be hobbled, potentially for years.

“The labor force is a constraining factor for our employment growth,” Liu said.

Here’s what you need to know about the issue and why it’s important.

Where are they going?

The Census Bureau analyzes responses to the American Community Survey, taken annually by about 2 million U.S. households. One of the questions is: Where did you live a year ago?

Michigan has about 10 million residents, a population that’s grown by about 2 percent since 2010. From 2016 to 2020, Michigan lost a net of over 9,500 people to Florida, 1,913 to Arizona and 1,852 to North Carolina.

Rounding out the states with a net gain of at least 1,000 former Michiganders: Washington (1,488), Kentucky (1,336), Minnesota (1,258) and Wisconsin (1,026).

Liu said retirement is a likely driver for many choosing the warmer weather in Florida and Arizona. But he said economic opportunity is another driver.

Illinois’ loss is Michigan’s gain

Michigan did see an estimated net gain of more than 500 people from seven states, with Illinois (4,249) leading the way, followed by Indiana (1,931), New York (1,855), Pennsylvania (890), Connecticut (677), Mississippi (617) and Massachusetts (585).

Earlier trends revealed a common pattern of people leaving Michigan and moving to the Chicago area. But now, the data again confirms a reversal of sorts, with Michigan a big net gainer. Many of those movers have chosen west Michigan, where a number of Illinois residents have long vacationed, but also to Grand Rapids and Kent County.

Immigration declines

For the first half of the 20th Century, Michigan was a magnet for waves of migration spurred by the rapid growth of the auto industry. 

But the last time its population grew by more than 1 percent in a year was 1971, shortly after central air conditioning in new homes became standard and fueled massive migration to the Sun Belt.

Michigan was still able to grow slowly through the early 2000s because of international immigration and a young population with growing families.

But now, as an aging state with one of the highest median ages, the birth rate is declining and in 2020 and 2021, the pandemic led to more deaths in the state than births.

And restrictive policies during the Trump administration saw immigration fall by nearly half. 

Liu said 19,000 immigrants came to southeast Michigan in 2016 but just 2,500 in 2021. 

Statewide, an average of 8,700 immigrants came annually since 2020, down from an average of more than 19,000 a year from 2010 to 2019.

“To see any (population) increase in the future, that number has to go up,” he said.

Jennifer Van Hook, director of the Population Research Institute at Penn State University, said Asia, and most likely India, is the biggest immigrant group, “drawn to Michigan to work in areas of research, education, and medicine.”

But those immigrants, she said in an email to Bridge, are not going to dramatically alter the population of Michigan. Under the Trump administration, the denial rate for those visas soared, limiting who would get them and who would make the trip.

“While this is a contribution to the overall economy, these kinds of jobs do not tend to draw the large numbers that came to work in manufacturing and agricultural sectors of the early 20th century.”

Michigan continues to watch thousands of residents leave the state, often for warmer climates or economic.
Michigan continues to watch thousands of residents leave the state, often for warmer climates or economic.


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