MichMash: Cities Brace for Low Census Response Rates As Deadline Nears

Michigan’s overall response rate is high. But in cities like Detroit, a low count will likely mean big financial trouble.

The deadline to fill out the 2020 Census is fast approaching. The count comes every 10 years, and this time around it’s happening right in the middle of a global pandemic.

“I don’t have any confidence in any appeal process. I think if we don’t fill out these forms, you know, we’re gonna be really hurt.” – Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk about why some local officials are scrambling to improve their response rates before September 30th.

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This year’s count is still underway, although a lot of national attention is now focused on other things, and has been for the past six months. But it is time to pay really close attention to the census right now, because people only have until the end of the month to fill out their census forms.

There are multiple reasons it’s important for people to fill out the census forms, the big one being because of what it means for federal funding. The census will determine how much federal funding areas get for things like health care, roads and infrastructure, public safety and education and it will effect that funding for an entire decade.

Fill out your census here by Sept. 30.

What residents do between now and the end of this month will have a huge impact that will last until 2030.

Right now Michigan as a whole is actually on par with the rest of the nation’s response rate. Around 70 percent of households have filled out the census. But local officials in some cities and regions of the state are worried. That’s because their local response rates are very low. In the city of Detroit, for example, fewer than half of all households have filled out a census form and that has Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, very worried.

Not only is Duggan worried because of the low response rate in the city, he told Detroit Today’s Stephen Henderson, but also because of federal policy changes at the Census Bureau that are going to severely limit its ability to account for low response rates on the census.

“I don’t have any confidence in any appeal process,” he said. “I think if we don’t fill out these forms, you know, we’re gonna be really hurt.”

Communities of color especially at risk

This is especially a problem in communities of color and in cities with large immigrant populations.

Those are populations that have traditionally had low response rates to the census. Those communities are even harder to count this year for a lot of reasons, including fear of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. But also the coronavirus, which has hit communities of color especially hard,

Another concern, for cities especially, is about how this will affect political representation in Washington and in Lansing. Urban areas have for a long time lost political clout at the state Capitol and in Congress. And that clout is going more and more to suburban and rural areas. This census could speed up that shift in political power quite a bit.

Cities like Detroit are now sending volunteers into the community to get the word out about the census and they’re doing what they can to educate residents about the importance of filling out the census. They’re also trying to quell their fears about giving over that information. But they’ve got a huge gap to make up in a very short period of time and that work is even harder because of the pandemic.

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.