Work from Home Capabilities Continue to Drive Movement to the Metro-Detroit Suburbs

Suburbs are “in” again, according to recent research highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, after nearly a decade of increased migration to and interest in cities. However, while the pandemic has changed how many of us live, and plan to live, Census data shows that in Southeastern Michigan there has been a trend for some time of people leaving the more heavily populated areas and moving to the less dense areas, and increasing density there.

In 2019 Wayne County had the highest population density at 2,872 people per square mile. Detroit is located in Wayne County and in 2019 it had a population density of 4,689 per square mile, which remains the highest in the state despite decades of decline. As both the second and third map below show migration out of Wayne County has been the highest in the region since at least 2010. Between 2019 and 2014 there was a 1.8 percent decline in the population density of Wayne County and between 2010 and 2019 the total decline came in at 6 percent. Wayne County had a population of 1.75 million people in 2019 as compared to 1.77 million in 2014.

Washtenaw County, which had a population density of 520 people per square mile in 2019, experienced the highest percentage increase in population density between 2014-2019 and 2010-2019. According to Census data, between 2014-2019 there was a 4.3 percent increase in population density and between 2010-2019 there was a 6.7 percent increase. In 2019 Washtenaw County had a population of 367,601.

In Southeastern Michigan, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties all had the highest population densities at 2,872, 1,814 and 1,475, respectively. While Wayne County has lost population in recent years, Macomb and Oakland counties gained it, and with that came an increase in density. Between 2010-2019 Macomb County experienced a 3.9 percent increase in its population density and Oakland County experienced a 4.4 percent increase. Aside from Washtenaw County, Livingston County was the only other one to experience an increase; between 2010-2019 Livingston County experienced a 3.6 percent increase in population density. Monroe and St. Clair counties remain the least densely populated and have lost density since 2010 (a smaller decrease than Wayne County).

According to, which ranks the fastest growing communities based on Census data, the following places have experienced the highest percentage of population growth since 2010 in Michigan:

  • Rockford
  • Novi
  • Coldwater
  • Auburn Hills
  • East Grand Rapids
  • Chelsea
  • New Baltimore
  • Milan
  • Kentwood
  • Rochester

Of these 10 communities, three are  in Oakland County (Novi, Rochester, Auburn Hills), one is in Macomb County (New Baltimore) and two are in Washtenaw County (Chelsea and Milan); none are in Wayne, Washtenaw or Monroe counties, all of which have been losing residents.

So, while Southeastern Michigan has been experiencing the migration of residents out of the Detroit for sometime, it is expected to continue. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the pandemic has caused the largest cities in the country to experience an exodus of residents, in part, due to an increased accessibility of remote work. According to the Wall Street Journal’s analysis of US Post Service data and Census data, the Midwest, Northeast and West all lost residents since the pandemic began while the South gained residents.

A shift in migration also means there will be, eventually, a shift in the fiscal health of cities and regions. In areas where people are leaving, tax revenue will also depart. What this could mean for places like Detroit and Michigan has yet to remain seen. However, with the continued out-migration of residents from Michigan over the last decade we do know that the State is losing another Congressional seat.

Southeastern Michigan Net Out-of-State Net Migration Far Lower than County-to-County Migration

Just as our previous post showed all seven counties in the Metro-Detroit region were gaining residents from other Michigan counties, additional data shows that growth goes beyond Michigan residents. According to 2015 Census data (the most recent migration data available), all counties in the seven county region had an overall net growth of residents, with the exception of Washtenaw County. According to the data, Washtenaw County had a net migration loss of five residents; there were 523 new residents who moved to Washtenaw County from outside of Michigan and 528 Washtenaw County residents who left the state for another. According to the data, Oakland County had the largest net gain of out-of-state residents at 1,661; 3,825 out-of-state residents moved to Oakland County in 2015 and 2,164 left Oakland County for another state. The only other county that had a net gain of more than 1,000 new residents was Wayne County. In total, 6,542 out-of-state residents moved into Wayne County in 2015 and 5,154 Wayne County residents left the state, meaning there was a net growth of 1,388 residents.

In comparing migration patterns between county-to-county in Michigan (previous post) and those moving in and out of the state, the data clearly shows migration within the state is much more common. For comparison, in 2016 there were 33,148 people who moved to Wayne County from other areas in Michigan while there were 6,542 out-of-state residents moved into Wayne County in 2015. In-state migration appears to be much easier for residents, but, as this post highlights, out of state migration into the seven county region is higher than those leaving the area for outside of Michigan.

Washtenaw County Sees Highest Percentage on In-State Population Influx

In 2016, Washtenaw County had the highest percentage of residents move into its boundaries in Southeastern Michigan, according to Census data. According to the data, 5.7 percent of the Washtenaw County population (or 20,213 people) was made up of residents who moved there from other counties in the State of Michigan in 2016. The large share of Washtenaw County residents that attend the University of Michigan from other counties in the state may help account for this result.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wayne County had the lowest percentage of Michigan residents moving into the county from elsewhere in the state in 2016. According to the data, 1.9 percent of Wayne County’s population was made up of people who moved there from elsewhere in the State of Michigan. But, despite Wayne County having the lowest percentage of residents from elsewhere in Michigan move into its boundaries, it had the second highest overall number of people moving there. In total, there was an estimated 33,148 people who moved to Wayne County in 2016 from other areas in Michigan.

Oakland County was the only county in the region with a higher number of Michiganders who moved inside its boundaries in 2016. According to the Census data, there were 42,748 people from Michigan, outside of Oakland County, who moved to Oakland County in 2016. This number made up 3.5 percent of the Oakland County population.

In terms of sheer volume, Monroe County had lowest number of people move there from elsewhere in the state at 4,004 people; this was equivalent to 2.7 percent of its population.

While the map above shows the percentage of Michiganders who moved into a Southeastern Michigan county from elsewhere in the state in 2016, the map does not represent the net gain, or loss, of the migration in each county. Next week we will be diving deeper into the county-to-county migration in Southeastern Michigan to better understand how, and if, counties in the region are growing.