Oakland County’s future isn’t just black and white

Recently, the Detroit News reported that people were pouring out of Wayne County faster than our of any other county in the United States. Since 2000, the county has lost 135,513 people—a bit more than 23,000 of them left last year alone.   

The same article reported that Oakland County is gaining in population, but it’s not necessarily because people are playing “musical counties.” The truth is that people just aren’t leaving Oakland County in the big numbers that they have been. The reduced out-migration, coupled with the natural increase of births over deaths and immigrants from abroad have all helped keep the county growing.   

But I wonder if Oakland County is ready for the kind of growth that it’s seeing. I had the pleasure of talking to Leadership Oakland about the demographic future of the county, and it unearthed some surprises.   

 In Oakland County’s inner-ring suburbs (Ferndale and Royal Oak), we are seeing more singles and single-sex households. This means the fewer people are having fewer children. (Oakland County’s birth total in 2007 (14,111) was 3,000 fewer than its recent high in 1990 (17,008).  

 Meanwhile, the complexion of the children in Oakland County is changing.   While the total non-White population increased from 15.9 to 19.7 percent, between 2000 and 2008, that for children less than 5 years of age grew from 19.9 to 26.2 percent, respectively.  Ferndale has seen a 53.5 percent increase in students of color since 1991, and there’s been a 36.7 percent increase in Southfield Public Schools which are now 96 percent students of color.[1]  Is Oakland County facing the re-segregation of its public schools?   

Nearly half of all foreign-born residents of Oakland Country arrived here after 1990. That means that the immigrant population is new and growing in the county. There is a high concentration of Asians, with Latinos concentrated in Pontiac and Waterford.[2]    

Meanwhile, the white population in Oakland County is an aging population. Oakland County will double its senior population (65+) over the next 30 years.   

When you look at Oakland County you see some stark trends emerging. The young people are increasingly minority and/or immigrant. The older people are white. Foreign immigration is accounting for a good deal of the growth in Oakland County. (Even in Detroit where the birth rate is down by 50 percent since 1990, the young population is increasingly Latino and/or foreign born.) The public schools are re-segregating. The increase in single-sex families is changing the human needs in the county’s inner-ring cities.   

These changes pose unique opportunities. If the county is able to welcome diversity, it will have the advantage of being able to build a culture aligned with (rather than resisting) the realities of a flattening world. Where the diversity experiment has largely failed in Detroit, it still holds promise in Oakland County, that still may be able to create places where young, mobile, diverse talent will want to live.   

The question is whether Oakland County sees the inevitable changes as a challenge or an opportunity.   

(Future blogs will explore the demographics of the other counties in the region.)   

[1] It should be pointed out that school enrollment data follows the federal guideline for “minority group” designations – African-American, Native American, Asian/PI, Multi-Race and Hispanic/Latino.  Middle Eastern, Chaldean and other ethnic groups are not identified through enrollment data.   

[2] National data show that Asians and Latino have higher fertility rates than non-Hispanic whites.  The fertility rates for recent immigrants, particularly those with lower levels of education and socioeconomic status, is higher.