Officials: Michigan could lose $1.5B through 2030 in census undercount

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Michigan could lose $1.5 billion in the next decade if its current number of residents' responses to the census becomes its final numbers, officials with the state's “Be Counted” 2020 census campaign said Tuesday.

An estimated 50,000 Michiganians still have not been counted in the census and canvassers have about 25 days to add them in the tally, they said. If the census numbers were to become final, then the state will lose $150 million in federal funding annually for the next 10 years, or nearly $1.5 billion through 2030, they estimate.

"The last thing we want our communities and our state to be shortchanged by not having individuals counted in our state," said Kerry Ebersole Singh, Michigan's statewide census director.

She made the remarks during a virtual news conference organized by the campaign to provide an update on state census efforts in the wake of the U.S. Census Bureau’s agreement with a federal court order to continue enumeration through Oct. 31. 

On Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge in California extended the U.S. Census' deadline for counting from Monday to Oct. 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the National Urban League against U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau. The plaintiffs claim the bureau changed its deadline to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude undocumented immigrants from the numbers used in redrawing congressional districts.

On Tuesday, Ebersole Singh and other leaders of Michigan's census campaign repeated their call on residents who haven't submitted a completed a 2020 census form yet to fill one out and turn it in.

The state's census director was joined at the news conference by State of Michigan Demographer Eric Guthrie and Donna Murray-Brown, president and CEO of the Lansing-based Michigan Nonprofit Association, a group for nonprofits and one of the state's key partners in the census campaign.

Even with the extended deadline, there's a chance census takers won't have enough time to ensure Michigan's most vulnerable communities are fully counted due to a lack of staff, Guthrie said

"We are confident that Michigan's wealthiest areas will be fully represented in the 2020 census," he said. "However, there is a distinct possibility that Michigan's low-income communities will be shortchanged for the next decade."

Tuesday's call for Michiganians to complete the census comes as the state ranks 7th in the nation for best self-response rate, tied with Illinois. In the 2010 census, Michigan ranked 17th in self-responses, Guthrie said.

Michigan also ranks 34th in the U.S. for total enumeration, with 20,000 uncounted households representing about 50,000 residents who still have not yet been counted. The census estimates each household has 2.5 people.

Murray-Brown said it's estimated 20,000 of the uncounted people are in Wayne County and nearly 12,000 are in the city of Detroit.

The state receives about $3,000 per person per year in federal funding. 

Last week, officials said the shortfall was bigger with an estimated 55,000 households that still hadn't been counted. Those unaccounted households could cost the state more than $450 million in federal funds a year, they said at the time.

After nearly a week of door-to-door visits and receiving residents' responses, the number of uncounted households was whittled down, they said.

Campaign officials said Tuesday they plan to use digital and social media messaging to reach Michiganians who haven't been counted yet in the census in the three weeks until their deadline.

Ebersole Singh said the campaign chose the strategy because even though many low-income Michigan residents may not have computers, nearly everyone has a mobile phone and is on social media platforms. 

Murray-Brown said the campaign will make the most of the time it has until Oct. 31.

"Michigan nonprofits and the 'Be Counted' campaign will use the extended completion deadline... to help ensure that all people in Michigan, are counted where they live, especially those in our hardest to count communities," she said. "The most important issue right now facing nonprofits is really getting the message out with the little time that we have left... that it's not too late to be able to complete the census. There is still time."