We’re No. 11!

The official numbers won't be released until Thursday, June 30, but one area demographer is predicting that the latest U.S. Census figures will bring landmark news for the city of Detroit. Given the way things have been going here lately, you probably won't be surprised to learn that these tidings aren't expected to be uplifting.

When you're losing 10,000 to 12,000 people a year, population counts rarely bring a smile. But this time out, in terms of prestige anyhow, the report will be even more frown-inducing than usual. That's because it's likely to show that, for the first time since 1910, Detroit won't be one of the country's 10 most populous cities.

That's the prediction of Wayne State University demographer Kurt Metzger, who expects San Jose, Calif., to bump us out of the top 10. Many thought that would happen following the head count in 2000. But that's around the same time the economic bubble went pop in Silicon Valley. The high-tech industry has been on the rebound since then, while the U.S. auto industry continues to struggle. Which means San Jose has a good chance of elbowing past us.

"Since things have turned around in California and not here, I'm expecting it to happen," Metzger says.

Dropping out of the top 10 won't change that much about the way Detroit operates, Metzger says. But it's symbolic of Detroit's problems.

There was a lot of hand-wringing in 2000, Metzger says, when Detroit's population officially dropped below 1 million. That's the lowest it had been since 1920, when the city's population was on the rise. Population peaked in the 1950s, when the number of residents crept close to 2 million.

There were worries that some federal funding eligibility was tied to a population more than a million, but Metzger says that's not so. And state criteria were rewritten to make cities of more than 700,000 qualify for the upper echelons of revenue sharing.

"Dropping out of the top 10 is a psychological thing. It's a prestige thing," Metzger says. "It will play into all of the other negatives."

The continuous stream of people leaving Detroit is prompted by a number of things: Lousy city services and a much-troubled school system are two that spring to mind. The 1999 lifting of the residency requirement for city employees didn't help matters.

In last year's census release, San Jose had 897,399 residents. Detroit had 912,472.

"The question is, has that 15,000-person difference been overcome?" Metzger says. "We're expecting that it has."

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