Macomb’s Changing Demographics Present Challenges, Opportunities

Chad Selweski, The Macomb Daily, December 12, 2012

The “new Macomb County,” comprised of a much higher population of blacks, Asians and Hispanics than in past decades, presents numerous challenges and opportunities over the coming decade, according to a panel of six experts who presented a new report on Wednesday.

Macomb Community College President Jim Jacobs said the 60-page report outlines abundant ways that an increasingly diverse population will affect businesses, schools and government agencies. But community tensions may arise because most of the new immigrants live south of Hall Road while the area north of Hall is nearly all white and largely unaffected by “The Great Divergence.”

“The future of the county rests on solving this issue of north and south. The artificial divisions within the county cannot let us fail to reflect on the needs of new residents,” said Jacobs, an economist.

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Christine Johns, superintendent of Utica Community Schools, the second largest school district in Michigan, said the number of foreign-born UCS students needing help learning English skyrocketed by 578 percent, to nearly 2,000, from 2000 to 2012.

The demographics, and the big hit taken by the Macomb County economy, also led to a 279 percent increase over the past 12 years, to 7,500 UCS students, receiving free or reduced school lunches.

In UCS alone, 47 different languages are spoken by students. Of those, the New Macomb County report shows that the most frequent languages spoken at home are: Chaldean, 12.6 percent; Arabic, 10 percent; Spanish, 28.3 percent; Albanian, 4.7 percent; Hmong, 15.8 percent; and Bengali, 7 percent.

A crowd of about 175 business leaders, public officials and educators gathered at the Lorenzo Center on MCC’s center campus in Clinton Township to learn about the key messages and data in the report, which was funded by the Kresge Foundation.

Over the past decade, Macomb has experienced an influx of blacks and Hmong—an Asian ethnic bloc—from Detroit, plus thousands of immigrants from Iraq, India, Albania and Bangladesh, said Kurt Metzger, director of the nonprofit group Data Driven Detroit.

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The 2007-09 housing crisis, which saw numerous foreclosed homes in south Macomb transformed into rental properties, fueled the migration of young, black families to Warren, Roseville, Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores. In turn, those dynamics led to a “new wave” of K-12 students in the south end, contrary to the trends in other Michigan suburbs.

From 2000 to 2010, according to Metzger, 185,000 Detroiters moved out of the city and into “near-in” suburbs—a stunningly large increase compared to past decades. Macomb attracted 51,000 of those inner city residents, pushing the county’s share of black residents to 9 percent—24 percent of those under 20 years old.

At the same time, outmigration to other states, worker buyouts and early retirements have had a profound effect on a Macomb County workforce that now suffers from a “skills gap.”

Chuck Pasque, chairman of the Warren-based Paslin Company, said his manufacturing firm is suffering from a severe talent shortage. Paslin endures “historical highs” in its shortage of highly skilled employees—from engineers to tool makers to pipe fitters—in part because so many Macomb workers have turned away from manufacturing.

“We’re not in a competition for business. We’re in a competition to get a qualified workforce,” said Pasque, whose family-owned firm has been in business since 1937.

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Assistant County Executive Al Lorenzo, the former longtime MCC president, said that he doesn’t expect any public backlash against the incursion of a wide array of ethnics. Those people who still hold antiquated views of Macomb as an unsophisticated, bigoted county would have anticipated riots in the streets, given the movement of more than 100,000 blacks and ethnics to the county since 1990.

“You would have thought all hell would have broken loose by now,” Lorenzo said. “I don’t see it. Where is it?”

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