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February 2011

Where Are the Babies?

Birth data for 2009 are just coming out from the Michigan Department of Community Health and the story they tell is more of the same – births and birth rates continue to drop.  The 2009 total of 117,309 represents a 23 percent decrease since the most recent post-baby boom period high of 153,080 in 1990.  The crude birth rate (births per 1,000 population) is 11.8, the lowest rate since my records began in 1900.  We can take some solace in the fact that the national rate of 13.5 is its lowest over this period as well.

Population growth is driven by natural increase – births over deaths – and net migration – people moving in vs. moving out.  Since Michigan has been an “out-migrant” state for quite some time now, we must depend on natural increase to drive our growth.  Needless to say, with decreasing births and increasing deaths, due to an aging population, natural increase is no longer saving the day – witness the result of five consecutive years of population loss.

A great deal of discussion of late has concentrated on the need to retain and attract a young, educated workforce and combine that with retention and attraction efforts geared toward immigrants.  Both efforts are extremely important for driving both population and economic growth in the future.  We must be able to increase our attractiveness to a population that is concentrated in the child-bearing years, or we will continue to lose population.

The local story is the same, though the degree of decrease differs.  In spite of the overall population gains experienced by Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties during the 1990-2009 period, all experienced continued decreases in birth numbers in 2009, and all were down from their 1990 high points.  Washtenaw County’s  3,781 birth total was down 9.3 percent;  Macomb County’s 9,298 births represented a decrease of 11.4 percent; and Oakland County’s births dropped 21.2 percent to 13,406.

The Wayne County picture must be taken both with and without the City of Detroit.  As most of you know, Wayne County is estimated to have lost more residents during the past decade than any county in the country.  If we look at births for the county as a whole, we find that they are down by 39.4 percent (24,646 in 2009) since 1990.  However, if we take Detroit out of the equation, the decrease drops to 18.8 percent (13,447).  As we await the results of the 2010 Census, we find that birth trends in the City of Detroit confirm the fact that the city is becoming smaller and older.  The 11,199 births recorded in 2009 represent a 53.6 percent decrease since 1990.

Birth trends are an indicator of a region’s health and vitality.  While birth rates have been decreasing among all racial and ethnic groups, the decreases experienced in Michigan and the Detroit region are not sustainable.  Our hospitals depend on births to contribute to the bottom line.  Where will our pediatricians go if their market dries up?  Babies drive a huge retail industry and their products fill many a store shelf.  Childcare providers, already hit hard by the economic downturn, will not be able to survive.  Most importantly, our school districts, suffering from decreasing property values and state funding, must come to the realization that their potential student cohorts are getting smaller and smaller.  In most districts, their largest market segments have either recently graduated or will be graduating soon.  Their current infrastructure can not be sustained based on current population trends.  Advertising in the hopes of grabbing kids from other districts may, in the short term, keep one district afloat but it is not the way to go in the long run.

We must face the demographic facts and have a serious discussion about the future of school districts and local governments in Michigan.  Things must change!

We Need to Listen to the Kids

I had the honor and pleasure of participating in a press conference on February 8 announcing the release of the latest Kid’s Count in Michigan report.  While no press were in attendance (guess it was just a conference then), the time was well worth it because I got to meet participants from the program “Our Life in the D.”  Our panel consisted of  Marcella Wilson, president and CEO of Matrix Human Services; Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of Michigan League for Human Services, Jack Kresnak, president and CEO of Michigan’s Children, and me (that guy with the red tie).  The conference was moderated by Skillman Foundation program officer Robert Thornton.

I am not going to spend the time rehashing the data.  You can learn more about that by visiting the websites of either the Michigan League for Human Services or Data Driven Detroit.

Rather, I wanted to highlight the young people you see in the picture that opens this blog.  These were some of the reporters from Our Life in the D (, who shared personal stories related to information presented in the data.  For example, reporter Lettie-Ann Miller discussed being a student with asthma, and reporter Sarah Vang  talked about why more Detroit students are staying in school and graduating.  Reporters Asher Clark and Baaqar Ellis weighed in on student health, writing about a new Subway at Central High School.

As taken directly from their website, “Our Life in the D is a multimedia training and leadership project intended to provide young people like us living in Detroit with this Web site and a voice as we explore issues we face in our communities.  Our Life in the D has a special focus on the  Skillman Foundation’s six Good Neighborhood communities that include Chadsey-Condon, Southwest Detroit, Cody-Rouge, Osborn, Northend-Central and Brightmoor.

Under the guidance of professional journalists, we and our partners like the reporters at Youth Neighborhood News will produce stories, videos and other media. In addition to learning storytelling and Web skills, we will have the chance to become emeshed in civic life, gaining an understanding of our roles as active citizens and how policies affect us and how we can affect policies.”

These are the voices we need to be listening to.  Their perspectives on life in Detroit most often get drowned out and discarded.  We speak about the importance of education for our children and our hope that, once educated, they will return and work to build our future success.  If they are not listened to now, what reason will they have to return?

Jack Kresnak and Michigan’s Children have started something wonderful here.  Go to the website.  Support this effort in any way that you can.  This program and the youth that are involved represent one more reason I LOVE DETROIT!

Don’t Believe Every Number You See

I was lying in bed a couple nights ago reading last week’s issue of Newsweek.  The cover story was, of course, about the uprising in Egypt and the unrest in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Yemen and Tunisia.

While the overall issues being raised in Egypt are extremely important, it is the demographic aspect that fascinates me.  The initiation of the protests has been attributed to the young, increasingly sophisticated, population in these countries, who, through educaton and technology are learning more about the possibilities, and then using that technology to rally themselves to the streets.  It reminded me of the 60s when our rallies required telephones and word-of-mouth.

I read the article and then was drawn to the map that you see in this blog.  It was a nice map with percentages – HOW COULD I RESIST?  However, as I read the small print above the map I became confused.  The map was purported to illustrate the fact that the younger population was an extremely important segment of these countries due, if for no other reason, to their shear numbers.  The percentages represented “the population under 30 years of age.”

Once I read this I knew that sleep would have to wait until I got to the bottom of this.  I knew that 29 percent of the City of Detroit’s population was under 18 years of age, making us younger than any country on the map.  I jumped out of bed and went across the hall to the computer.  I pulled up the Census Bureau’s website and went to work.  My first search and computation found that 41 percent of the U.S. population is less than 30.  That is well beyond any country on the map – why are we not marching?  Next I went to the Bureau’s International Database and began to dig.  It soon became clear that the map represented population shares “less than 20 years of age.”  Next step was to send a letter to the Editor at Newsweek.

Well…I have yet to get a response and there is no mention in this week’s issue.  I had cancelled my subscription anyway after Newsweek had been sold last year and lost most of my favorite writers.

I promise that Data Driven Detroit will make every effort to GET THE NUMBERS RIGHT.  If you ever find a problem please let us know.  We guarantee to not only fix it but acknowledge your input on our site and in a personal thanks to you.

Community Engagement is a Beautiful Thing!

The Census Bureau has begun the process of releasing the first set of local data files from the 2010 Census.  The PL94-171, or redistricting files, contain the information – race/ethicity and gender of the voting age population for every single “census block” in the state – that will serve as the basis for constructing all the voting districts – U.S. Congress; State House and Senate; County Commissioner; and City Councils – across Michigan.  State files are being released on a flow basis, with the expectation that Michigan’s file will arrive sometime in March.

Long considered a process that is conducted secretly in smoke-filled rooms, advances in technology and a more engaged electorate is bringing the process out in the open where smoking is no longer allowed.

Kat Hartman and I had the privilege of representing Data Driven Detroit last Friday at a meeting of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative.  Joining us at the table was a group of committed community activists representing the Michigan Nonprofit Association; Michigan Voice; Common Cause; the League of Women Voters of Michigan; the United Ways of Michigan; the Center for Michigan; Public Sector Associates; the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration; and a number of others.

The goal of the collaborative is to lead an effort to reform the Michigan redistricting process to make it open and transparent at both the state and local levels.  While a great deal of work will be done at the legislative level, the primary objective will be a Public Education campaign.  This campaign will include the production of a “Guide to Redistricting” and other informational materials; a Stakeholders Meeting that will feature national experts and be open to the public; the production of training materials for nonprofits; a series of Community Conversations convened by the Center for Michigan; and a Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition.

The Redistricting Competition is being led by Jocelyn Benson (Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in 2010) and the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration.  The competition is inspired by the Ohio Secretary of State’s 2009 “Ohio Redistricting Competition,” a month long competition that invited Ohio citizens to create their own unbiased district maps. The competition produced citizen-made district maps that were judged and submitted to the Ohio General Assembly for redistricting consideration.

In Michigan, Competition partners will convene a bipartisan committee to oversee the “Michigan Redistricting Competition.”    The committee will solicit public plans for the drawing of legislative districts for U.S. Congress, State House and State Senate. The submitted plans will be posted online via an interactive website, and the committee will score each plan based on previously determined objective principles.  The highest scoring plans will be endorsed and submitted for consideration to the Michigan Legislature.

The Competition’s interactive website, www.MichiganRedistricting.Org, will provide information on current legislative debates and historical and legal background on redistricting.   The website will also serve as the portal for citizens to review current potential redistricting plans and submit their own.

Data Driven Detroit is excited and honored to be a partner in this collaborative because it fits so well with our mission – making data available and accessible to promote community engagement and action.

Great Exposure for Detroit!

I boarded a Delta flight in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, January 31 on my way back from a great 6-day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. [By the way, my tan looks really good when contrasted with the snow.]

It was not until I looked in the seat pocket in front of me that I remembered my data gathering foray late last year for a freelancer working on an article for Delta’s Sky magazine.  I perused the January issue and, while there were many interesting articles, found nothing on Detroit.  I thought to myself that perhaps I was one-day early and that maybe the February issue would be the one.

While  a flight back the next day could have answered my question, my finances just weren’t ready to take another hit.  Thank goodness Marge Sorge at the Detroit News HUB was on the case.  Early on February 1 I received an email with this link

Delta has indeed profiled Detroit – city and region – and the result is TERRIFIC!  I have never seen such an extensive and inclusive profile that covered the arts, business – both old and new, the music, the architecture, the tremendous range of assets that contribute to the wonderful quality of life this area provides.  While I may long for the sunshine and 80 degree temperatures, I will never trade my life in Detroit for anywhere else (unless someone wants to offer a cranky old demographer vast riches – any takers?)

I encourage you to drop everything and read this article.  If you want a Pdf of the article just contact me through the “ask Kurt” button at Data Driven Detroit’s website