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September 01, 2005 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-09-01

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aNi I Metro

Keeping Count

Demographer knows the community well
... by the numbers.

A demographic of old Jewish Detroit

"You know the old saying that knowl-
edge is power," he says in explaining his
work. "That's absolutely the case in my
field. Public officials applying for grants,
e was born in Cincinnati (est.
school administrators, charitable organi-
population 314,154) and lives
zations — much of the time they're just
in Pleasant Ridge (est. popula-
making guesses about their demograph-
tion 2,594). But Kurt Metzger is now
ics. When they see raw numbers, they're
the main man when people want the
not sure what to do with them.
latest scoop on the numbers out of
"We try to analyze the information
Detroit (est. population 900,198).
and give them the larger picture. We
When it comes to demographics —
democratize the data, show them where
not only the raw data on people in
motion but where they're going and why their market is and how they can serve it
—Metzger's Detroit office at Wayne
Jim Jacobs , associate director of com-
State University is "information central"
munity colleges for the
for news media and
Teachers College of
other academics.
Columbia University In
"I must be in the
York City, calls
Rolodex of every
Metzger "a clear treasure
reporter in town look-
of the Detroit area.
ing for a knee-jerk reac-
Making it real. That's
tion," he says. "But I
his gift. He brings the
enjoy what I do and I
data alive."
enjoy talking about it.
His recent study on
'And for some people
crime in downtown
in Detroit, it's an easy
Detroit is called a land-
way to get out of giving
mark by Jim Townsend
a tough answer; just
of the Metropolitan
refer the callers to me."
Detroit Tourist and
Metzger, lean and
Convention Bureau.
affable at 57, was
"He showed that our
trained as a psycholo-
downtown was as safe
gist. But he soon dis-
as any other big city,"
covered the allure of
Townsend says. "That
numbers. Asking people
sort of breakdown of
why they live where
crime statistics had
they do has some strong
never been done here
elements of psychology
before, and it took away
to it, too.
a big cloud from the
The onetime member
city's reputation. It
of Temple Israel has
debunked the myths
lived in the area since
Kurt Metzger in his Detroit o
and delivered the facts."
1975, when he was
Charts and ideas fill
assigned to the Detroit
Metzger's office. The flow of African-
office by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Americans across the city and into the
Married with two grown children, he
suburbs from the 1940 Census to 2000.
now runs the Michigan Metropolitan
Information Center within Wayne State. The fact that the percentage of over-65
population in the suburbs of Warren
Metzger did not participate in the last
and Livonia is higher than in most cities
formal census of the area's Jewish popu-
in Florida. Pinpointing the dispersal of
lation, 16 years ago, but hopes to pro-
crime, AIDS and income, for instance,
vide some technical support for the new
is priceless information for those who
head count being planned by
need to know.
Planned Parenthood, Head Start, the

Special to the Jewish News


Skillman Foundation, the Community
and Home Improvement Division of
Oakland County — all of them have
come to Metzger to get their demo-
graphics figured out.

Shrinking Detroit

The most intriguing part of the puzzle is
the population decline of Detroit, and
what, if anything, can be done about it.
"It will stabilize soon," Metzger says.
"Everyone who wanted to leave has pret-
ty much gone, and there is a small influx
of singles and childless couples moving
downtown. So at around 850,000 it will
come into balance.
"But the larger problem is the city's
immigrant population. In every older
American city that shows some growth,
it is these new arrivals, the immigrants,
who are responsible. That's how it's
always been in these cities.
"They bring entrepreneurial energy.
They tend to have larger families, and
that is good for the public schools. They
create a demand for goods and services.
"In most other cities, though, they
stay for a while, maybe until the next
generation grows up. In Detroit, it
seems they leave as soon as they can.
The city doesn't retain them."
Many of these neighborhoods are
among the most commercially active in
Detroit. But the cycle has been speeded
up, and as soon as the newcomers get a
stake, they pick up and pack out to the
Some of it can be explained by the
fact that they are frozen out of political
power by a system that elects City
Council members at-large rather than by
wards that could give added weight to
concentrated immigrant communities.

Jewish Shift

Metzger also suspects that the metropol-
itan area's Jewish population has
dropped since it was tallied at a surpris-
ingly high 96,000 in 1989. Florida
demographer Ira Sheshkin, who special-
izes in surveying Jewish communities,
will be in charge of the new count.
"The stories everyone hears about

young Jewish people moving away aren't
anecdotal," Metzger says. "They are
demographic facts. The question is how
to get them back or keep them here."
"We're hoping to get at some of those
answers," says Federation President Peter
Alter about the new census. "We want
to drill down to find the facts behind
the numbers, whether they're up or
down, so we can serve the Jewish popu-
lation here in the most meaningful fash-
Those answers are co-mingled with
the fate of Detroit. Because it is the only
place in this area where the sort of
urban life style many young people
seem to want may be possible. Only not
yet, and maybe not ever.
"The city is missing a perfect oppor-
tunity to come to grips with these ques-
tions," says Metzger. "Since the legisla-
ture disallowed residency requirements
for city employees, Detroit has lost a lot
of these workers." (According to some
counts, it may amount to 4,500 fami-
lies, about one-quarter of total city
"The city should be interviewing
these people, both those who left and
those who stayed. 'Why did you choose
to go? What were the factors behind
your decision either way?'
"I don't think they're doing that, and
it is a great chance to explore the think-
ing of a well-defined group. Their leav-
ing is having a disparate impact on
some neighborhoods where a lot of city
workers had clustered. The affect on
taxes is huge.
"These are major issues. Knowing the
answers about why these choices were
made would give us a chance to get
behind the claims and get at the facts.
Claims made without supporting infor-
mation will always be met with suspi-
Asked about future projects, he
"It's too bad that Sharon McPhail did-
n't get past the primary for mayor," he
says. "She wanted to appoint a 'popula-
tion czar' for the city. How cool would
that be? I could have gone for that.
Who wouldn't want to be a czar?"


9/ 1


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