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Michigan's 2020 Census: Implications and Challenges

Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research launched its Fall Public Policy Series this month with a policy forum focused on the upcoming 2020 census and its possible outcomes for Michigan.

The Public Policy Forum took place Sept. 11, 2019.

Marilyn A. Sanders, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago Region, described the census as not only about counting people, but also about making people’s voices heard.

Information from the census forms the boundaries of congressional districts and helps determine federal support for local communities.

Three types of surveys make up the total population count, Sanders said. The decennial survey, determines the number of seats a state has in the U.S House of Representatives and is used to distribute federal funds. The second is American community survey yields information, like housing, about changes in a community. The third is the economic survey which provides information on businesses, including industry data.

Sanders said that the U.S Census Bureau had established a timeline for the count which includes door-to-door canvassing, internet surveys, and follow-up reaching out to those who don’t respond to canvassing or internet surveys. The biggest barrier, Sanders said, is motivating people to respond. In Michigan, challenges for the census include rural geography, vacant housing units, and high crime areas. In 2010, Michigan ranked fifth for its 78 percent participation rate in the census.

Noah Durst, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Planning, Design and Construction’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, described the census’ implications for research, policy-making, and funding. Durst said an estimated 2.06 percent of African Americans, 1.54 percent of Hispanics, and 1.09 percent of renters were undercounted in 2010.

Accurate counting and increase participation can help Michigan gain federal financial support, Durst said. Data from the census is critical to measure demographic and socio-economic conditions of neighborhoods, he said.

Joe Scantlebury, vice president for program strategy at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, spoke about Michigan’s population count challenges, and estimated that in the 2010 census two million children under the age of 5 weren’t counted. The undercount can result in limited resources to programs aimed at children and families, he said.  

Kerry Ebersole Singh, Michigan statewide census director, shared information about how the government can effectively use its resources to assure that Michigan has a complete count of the state’s population. Michigan should protect its current congressional seats to assure the state is well represented in Congress, she said.

Hannah Sweeney is an IPPSR Policy Fellow and Master of Public Policy Student at Michigan State University.