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Only New Orleans tops Detroit area population loss

DETROIT (Reuters) - Hit by a slump in the American auto industry, Detroit and its suburbs lost more residents in the past six years than any comparable U.S. area except hurricane-battered New Orleans, census data released on Thursday showed.

Wayne County, Michigan, lost more than 89,000 residents from 2000 to 2006 -- a loss of 4 percent of the county’s 2 million residents. The decline is behind only Orleans Parish in Louisiana, which lost 261,000 people in the same period with the vast majority of them after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area in 2005.

The Wayne County exodus comes as General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group -- the three big automakers that gave Detroit its Motor City nickname -- struggle with billions of dollars in losses and sliding sales.

Michigan lost 336,000 jobs in the six-year period, according to a study by the University of Michigan. In the past year alone, domestic automakers have announced more than 80,000 job cuts as they restructure their operations.

U.S. automakers have been struggling with labor costs, tough competition, and weaker sales of profitable trucks and sport utility vehicles as consumers opt for more fuel-efficient options.

As Detroit reels from job losses in the auto industry, the depressed city also has seen a surge in home foreclosures. The city, where unemployment runs near 14 percent and a third of the population lives in poverty, leads the nation in new foreclosure filings, according to tracking service RealtyTrac.

Detroit has lost more than half its population in the past 30 years as it struggled with rising crime, failing schools and other social problems.