Blacks Flee Detroit For Macomb County

Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily, August 16, 2006

New census figures reflect the changing face of Macomb County, driven by a relatively new phenomenon of “black flight” from Detroit that boosted Macomb’s black population by 118 percent over the past five years.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicates that black migration to the county, particularly in Warren and Sterling Heights, has accelerated rapidly this decade.

The county’s overall population rose by 4 percent since the 2000 census, to 820,599, according to the newest estimate. That puts Macomb in a position to surpass Detroit’s falling population by the end of this decade.

Much like the white flight to the suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s, the black flight is based on concerns about crime and the quality of public schools, according to experts. In addition, the black exodus from the city is largely taking place along an east-west divide, much like the white migration of past decades.

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Though Macomb County 30 years ago was tagged by critics with a racist reputation, its two largest communities—Warren and Sterling Heights—have seen their black populations nearly triple in just five years.

“People have to take that first leap and, once they do, and word gets back (to the city), the trend begins,” Metzger said. “I think what this is, is blacks saying, ‘We want the same things everybody else does. Why should we have to live in the city?’“

Oliver Lewis, a 33-year-old black man who moved to Warren two years ago, said he found that minorities are welcome in the predominantly white suburbs. His son is among only a handful of black students at his middle school, Lewis said, but he has blended into the student body.

“I was comfortable from Day One. I would recommend living in Warren to any minority,” said Lewis, who works at the Warren Community Center.

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Officials caution that the changes should not be overemphasized. Though the percentage increases are large, blacks still represent just 5.7 percent of the Macomb population, at 46,520 people.

Joe Munem, a spokesman for Warren Mayor Mark Steenbergh, said the influx of blacks is fairly simple to explain. Detroiters, he said, are making rational decisions, concluding that the quality of life is better in the suburbs.

“I think people are fleeing Detroit because Detroit is seen as a failed city. It doesn’t deliver basic services, and it delivers services at a very high tax rate,” said Munem, Warren director of communications.

“People want decent schools and safe streets, which Warren provides. People . . . of all colors want to go to sleep at night without worrying about bullets sailing through their bedroom window.”

Munem said Warren’s demographic diversity began decades ago, with a large Polish and Italian population. In later years, Albanians and Chaldeans settled in the city. Most recently, he said, Warren has experienced a migration of Asians, particularly Hmong. The Census Bureau reported a 59 percent increase in Warren’s Asian population, to 6,907, over the past five years.

Steve Cassin, Macomb County director of planning and economic development, said diversity helps the county economy by attracting college graduates and young professionals to Macomb’s cities and townships.

“In Michigan, we talk about keeping our young people here. Well, the communities where young people like to live are those that are more diverse, those that offer interaction among cultures,” Cassin said.

A project slated for this fall will encourage county residents to embrace diversity.

The county Planning and Economic Development Department teamed up with the Central Macomb County Chamber of Commerce to develop brochures that encourage the business community and the public to learn about the 16 largest ethnic and racial groups in the county.

The 16 separate brochures offer information about the geography, history and culture of groups such as African-Americans, Iraqis and Chaldeans, Arabs, Indians, Mexicans, Albanians, Macedonians and Hmong.

Beginning in September, thousands of brochures will be available in government buildings, libraries, chamber of commerce offices and local businesses.

In addition, each of the 16 groups will designate a local “ambassador” who will serve as a resource for information about his or her people.

“We don’t have to create diversity in Macomb County. We are extremely diverse,” said Grace Shore, director of the Central Macomb chamber. “We just need to be sensitive to the differences among different cultures.”

Macomb’s past reputation, whether fully deserved, was that of a nearly all-white county where blacks weren’t welcome and diversity wasn’t on the radar screen. Macomb was a leading destination for those whites who fled the east side of Detroit and Hamtramck.

In the 1970s, Macomb residents rose up in opposition to integration plans calling for cross-district school busing. The city of Warren waged a high-profile fight against government subsidized housing projects. In the 1980s, so-called “Detroit bashing” was common among many Macomb elected officials.

Now, blacks are the fastest-growing minority group in Macomb County, and the county’s 4 percent population gain since 2005 was partially fueled by a 37 percent jump in Asians and a 29 percent increase in Hispanics.

Following decades of white flight from Detroit, tens of thousands of blacks are following suit, according to the U.S. Census estimates released Tuesday. Detroit’s white population also continued to fall, dropping below 100,000 last year.

According to the newest figures, generated by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Detroit’s black population dropped 7 percent, from 740,013 to 686,241, in 2000-05. Blacks made up 82 percent of the city’s residents last year.

The city’s overall population fell 7 percent, from 900,892 to 836,056, with the city’s white population falling 14 percent, from 107,329 to 92,796.

Detroit’s population has dropped 55 percent since peaking at 1,849,568 people in 1950.

Michigan’s overall population rose 2 percent in 2000-2005, from 9,688,555 in the 2000 U.S. Census to 9,865,583 in the estimate for 2005. The Hispanic population grew 20 percent, from 309,397 to 371,627, and the Asian population grew 26 percent, from 180,279 to 227,585.

Michigan’s white population rose 1 percent in 2000-2005, from 7,820,869 to 7,890,608, and its black population grew 3 percent, from 1,339,566 to 1,379,010.

Michigan’s population gain ranked 42nd among the 50 states.

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