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Once a bustling automobile manufacturing centre, Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy protection in U.S. history in mid July.

As the city embarks on a challenging period of austerity, a review of its demographics over the past two decades shows the city has already experienced dramatic change. Data on the city's population, unemployment, housing levels and crime rates tell a story that parallels the city's finances, showing the consequences of decline in the face of difficult circumstances.

The city's demise was first forecast by its withering population: the city shrunk by 32 per cent between 1990 and 2012, losing more than a quarter of a million people.

Detroit's declining population

SOURCE: The U.S. Census Bureau

The recession hit the Motor City particularly hard. In 2008, Detroit's population deflated by 28,500 people — the largest drop in 25 years, representing four per cent of its population at the time. Year after year, the number of people were departing the city continued to climb as residents sought opportunities in rival cities and states.

Detroit's population decline, year over year

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

This retreat is tied to other dismal figures like Detroit's unemployment rate and housing index.

By 2009, nationwide unemployment in the U.S. reached its highest point since the mid-1980s, peaking at 9.6 per cent. But the situation in Detroit was far worse, where unemployment skyrocketed to 24.9 per cent, the highest among America's 50 largest cities. The city's unemployment has hovered above 10 per cent since 2001.

Unemployment rate, Detroit vs. national average

SOURCE: Michican Department of Technology, Management and Budget

Leaving the city for greener pastures must have been a difficult decision for Detroit's property owners since the values of their homes were also plummeting. In the midst of a nationwide recession, the reality for the region of Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn was closer to a depression: the housing price index there fell from 188 in 2005 to 115 in 2011, lowering housing prices to nearly the same level they were in 1997. (The housing price index shows the per cent change in average housing prices over time. This data compares prices to their value in 1995, so a value of 188 means it's 88 per cent higher than 1995.)

Housing Price Index for Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn

All-Transactions, House Price Index, not seasonally adjusted. (1995 = 100)

SOURCE: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What's left for those remaining in the city? Some of the highest crime rates in more than a decade.

Detroit has long been a blight on the U.S.'s already dismal crime rate, averaging 2,326 violent crimes per 100,000 people between 1985 and 2010, compared the national rate of 576 per 100,000 people. The city was flirting with a course correction in recent years — until the recession hit.

By 2010, the Detroit Police Department reported crime rate jumping by 21 per cent to 2,378 — one of the highest levels since the mid-1980s. Rates of aggravated assault, burglary, violent crime and forcible rape were all climbing once again after several years of decline.

Ten-year crime rate, Detroit Police Department

Incidents per 100,000 people per year

SOURCE: Uniform Crime Reporting, the U.S. Department of Justice

None of these figures are truly captured in the city's finances, which will be the focus of politicians and auditors as they begin assessing the city's financial future. But they are important indicators of a city changed, indelibly, in ways rarely seen in modern economies.