Duggan, Tlaib say Feds Caused “Intentional Undercount” in Detroit Census

Local officials are preparing to challenge Detroit’s Census, citing lack of coordination and staffing. Detroit’s response rate was 51%, which is the lowest for U.S. cities with populations more than 500,000

Mayor Mike Duggan and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are challenging Detroit’s Census count, citing a lack of coordination by the Census Bureau to emphasize Detroit’s counting efforts. The city was largely seen as one of the “hardest-to-count” cities in the country. 

“There appears to be a national strategy to undercount cities and it appears to be hitting Detroit most effectively,” says Duggan, who notes that the count started late, ended early and was understaffed throughout.

“We need to make sure that this current administration doesn’t shortchange us, Because we would have to live with this count for a decade.” — Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13)

Detroit’s response rate was 51%, which is the lowest for U.S. cities with populations more than 500,000. It’s also 20% lower than the state average in Michigan, with only about half of its households completing the count.


“We need that direct human contact,” Tlaib says. “Where we can actually go door to door and talk to those that did not respond in the first place.”

Flawed From the Beginning

Census officials say the process was hamstrung from the start.

“There were people quitting as fast as they were hiring. They were very unorganized,” says Clois Foster, a Detroit Census Captain and enumerator. “We had to go out by ourselves. I was sitting out all day, maybe I’d get no cases at all.”

Foster cited a lack of supervision and duplicated efforts to count homes among the problems she faced during the count, which started in March. Others experienced a difference in how Detroit proceeded compared to its neighboring suburbs.

“When I reached out to some people I knew that were working on the Detroit Census, they hadn’t even started,” says Anthony Brinson, who worked on Census efforts in Macomb County before working in Detroit. “There was no one that could tell me where the hub was, who to speak to directly and who was in charge of these cases.”

Duggan says he suspects an undercount because DTE Energy has a higher number of households paying utilities than what has been reported by the Census.

He says Detroit has a hotline number for Census workers to report their experiences, as the city drafts an appeal and a potential lawsuit over the next two months. “Were you out working full days? Did you have the appropriate lists of what houses to go to? Did you have proper supervision? Did you have your tablets,” Duggan says. “All we’re asking for is for people to come forward and tell us the truth.”

Tlaib, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, says she is submitting a request for information to understand what resources were deployed to Detroit for the count. She says the Trump administration has already received multiple subpoenas and requests from other cities regarding the 2020 Census.

“We need to make sure that this current administration doesn’t shortchange us,” says Tlaib. “Because we would have to live with this count for a decade.”

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.