7 Michigan Towns Experiencing a Mass Exodus of Residents

Michigan has encountered numerous difficulties in the past few years, including economic downturn, urban decay, excessive taxes, deteriorating road conditions, and harsh weather conditions. These factors have led to a decline in population in various towns and cities throughout the state. Here are seven such places that residents are leaving as quickly as they can.

Michigan Cities Facing Population Decline

City/Township Peak Population (Year) 2020 Population Decline (%) Reasons for Decline
Detroit 1.8 million (1950) 670,000 63% Deindustrialization, crime, poverty, unemployment, blight
Flint 193,000 (1990) 95,000 51% Deindustrialization, job loss, Flint water crisis, poverty
Highland Park 38,000 (1990) 10,000 73% Deindustrialization, suburbanization, poverty, crime
Benton Harbor 20,000 (1990) 9,000 55% Job losses, Whirlpool relocation, racial tensions, crime, poverty
Hamtramck 23,000 (1990) 21,000 9% Decline of auto industry, job losses, aging population
Muskegon Heights 14,000 (1990) 10,000 29% Industrial decline, suburbanization, crime, poverty, education issues
Madison Charter Township N/A (Peak before 2020) 6,263 -3.7% (2020-2022) Rural exodus, search for economic opportunities


Detroit, the largest and most infamous city in Michigan, has experienced a significant decline in its population. Once a prosperous industrial center and the heart of the American automotive industry, Detroit has been plagued by issues such as bankruptcy, crime, poverty, unemployment, and blight.

The population of the city reached its highest point in 1950, with 1.8 million residents. However, over the years, the population has dwindled significantly, and as of 2020, it stands at around 670,000. This decline in population has resulted in numerous abandoned homes and businesses, leaving behind a landscape dotted with vacant buildings and empty lots. In an effort to breathe new life into the city, Detroit has undertaken various revitalization projects and initiatives. Despite these efforts, the city continues to grapple with numerous challenges and uncertainties.


Flint, like many other former industrial cities, has faced a significant decrease in population. Once a thriving manufacturing hub, Flint was the proud home of General Motors and other major companies. Unfortunately, the decline of the auto industry, the outsourcing of jobs, and the rise of automation have all contributed to the loss of employment opportunities and income for countless residents.

In 2014, Flint gained notoriety due to its water crisis. The city made the fateful decision to switch its water source to the Flint River, unaware that it was contaminated with lead and other harmful substances. This crisis had dire consequences for the residents of Flint, particularly the children, who faced significant health risks as a result. The situation sparked widespread outrage across the nation. As a result of the crisis, Flint’s population dwindled from approximately 193,000 in 1990 to around 95,000 in 2020.

Highland Park

Highland Park, a small city within Detroit, has also been affected by deindustrialization and depopulation. In its heyday, Highland Park was a thriving and diverse community, serving as the birthplace of Henry Ford’s first automobile plant and the invention of the assembly line. However, the closure of factories and the exodus of residents to the suburbs have had a detrimental impact on the city’s tax base and infrastructure. As a result, Highland Park has become one of the poorest and most crime-ridden cities in the state, with a median household income of approximately $15,000 and a poverty rate of around 48%. Over the years, the city’s population has declined significantly, dropping from approximately 38,000 in 1990 to just 10,000 in 2020.

Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor, situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, has encountered its fair share of economic and social challenges. In the past, it flourished as a bustling resort town and served as a hub for manufacturing and trade. Unfortunately, Benton Harbor witnessed the departure of key businesses and industries, including Whirlpool, which relocated its headquarters to the neighboring city of St. Joseph. Additionally, the city grappled with racial tensions, crime, corruption, and poverty. Over the years, Benton Harbor’s population dwindled significantly from approximately 20,000 residents in 1990 to around 9,000 residents in 2020.


Hamtramck, a small city within Detroit, has also witnessed a decline in its population. Once a Polish enclave where immigrants flocked to work in the thriving auto industry, Hamtramck was renowned for its vibrant cultural diversity, ethnic festivals, and historic landmarks. Unfortunately, with the decline of the auto industry, the consequential job losses, and the aging of its residents, the city’s vitality and appeal waned. Consequently, Hamtramck’s population dwindled from approximately 23,000 in 1990 to around 21,000 in 2020.

Muskegon Heights

Muskegon Heights, a city situated near the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan, has experienced a significant decline in its population. Once a thriving industrial hub, Muskegon Heights was home to prominent companies like Brunswick and Continental Motors. However, the city saw an exodus of both employers and residents to the suburbs and other areas. Alongside this, Muskegon Heights grappled with challenges such as crime, poverty, and educational shortcomings. Consequently, the city’s population dwindled from approximately 14,000 in 1990 to around 10,000 in 2020.

Madison Charter Township

Madison Charter Township, located in Lenawee County, was once a thriving rural community known for its agricultural activities. Farmers in the township cultivated crops and raised livestock, contributing to its growth and prosperity. However, over the years, Madison Charter Township has experienced a decline in population as residents have sought better economic opportunities and amenities in other cities and states. This has resulted in a negative population growth rate of -3.7% from 2020 to 2022 for the township.


Michigan is home to several towns and cities that have witnessed a significant exodus of people. These areas are emblematic of the impact that various factors, including industrial decline, environmental concerns, social issues, and demographic shifts, have had on the state. While certain communities are making efforts to rejuvenate and redefine their identity, others continue to grapple with survival and the task of attracting new residents. Michigan is a state brimming with potential and natural splendor, yet it also confronts numerous challenges and uncertainties.

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MBS Staff
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