After years of declining population, industrial Michigan finally seems to be on track toward growth again, the state's demographer says.
The U.S. Census reported this month that Michigan's population rose a razor-thin 0.1 percent to 9.91 million in 2014, the third straight increase. Despite the rise, Michigan dropped to the 10th most-populous state this year as North Carolina jumped to No. 9.
And the number of people moving to Michigan continues to trail the number migrating elsewhere, with births accounting for the slight increase.
Even so, the small rise "is a welcome change from the mid- to late 2000s, when Michigan experienced several years of consecutive population losses," state Demographer Eric Guthrie said in a report this week.
According to the U.S. Census report released Tuesday, Michigan's population rose by 11,684 between July 2013 and July 2014. The population is up an estimated 34,141 from 2011 — about a third of a percent.
By contrast, North Carolina's population rose by 95,057 in the past year to 9.94 million, dropping Michigan into the No. 10 spot among U.S. states. Texas led the nation in population growth, adding an estimated 451,321 people, while California remained the most populous state with 38.8 million residents, the U.S. Census report said.
For years, Michigan went through a population drain as the American auto industry struggled to keep up globally. Legacy labor costs made General Motors, Ford and Chrysler increasingly unable to compete profitably with their Asian and European rivals, and the Great Recession forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy.
But the federally supported financial reorganization allowed the automakers to shed retiree costs and return to competitiveness even as the overall market for cars and trucks expanded.
Michigan's unemployment rate, while still above the national rate, has been steadily falling this year. It dropped 0.4 points to a seasonally adjusted 6.7 percent in November, its lowest level since April 2006. Industrial employment in the state reached 574,000 last month, the highest since June 2008, according to the state Department of Technology, Management & Budget.
"Michigan's labor market has been very solid in the latter part of 2014," said Jason Palmer, director of the state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. "Payroll jobs in the state have reached a six-year high, while the jobless rate has declined for four consecutive months."
While the job numbers are positive, Michigan has yet to reach the point where more people move in than move out.
The estimated population growth for the 12 months ending in July "is less than what has been the historic natural increase — births minus deaths — for the state," Guthrie said. "That means that Michigan is still not attracting as many people as it is losing to migration."
That, he said, "will continue to limit Michigan's population growth."
A key to reversing the drag of out-migration is "having a well-trained workforce," Gov. Rick Snyder said after the latest job figures came out Dec. 17.
"We know we can be a national leader in creating opportunities for students and adults to gain in-demand skills that can fill the jobs of today and tomorrow," Snyder said. "Our goal is to see that the gains we are acknowledging today extend long into the future."