Opinion: Complete census crucial for Michigan's future

Donna Murray-Brown and Hassan Jaber
Officials gather to launch the Be Counted Detroit Census 2020 project.

On April 1, a national Census Day of Action was held to mark the one-year countdown to Census 2020, when our nation will embark on the Herculean task of counting every single resident.

Data from Census 2020 will be used to determine how billions of dollars in federal funding will be allocated to support states and communities across the nation.

The census goes digital in 2020. Individual online forms will be the primary method for collecting census information. While the Census Counts Campaign and census advocates will be working in communities to help Michigan residents adapt to the change, going online poses significant challenges to getting a complete count of all Michigan residents, especially the hard-to-count populations.

There is strength in numbers. Obtaining a complete count is critical for the future well-being of our state and our communities. The more people counted means more money and more power for Michigan residents, including our representation in Washington, D.C.

For every Michigan resident not counted, the state stands to lose an estimated $1,800 per person per year. That’s $18,000 per person over 10 years. Multiply that by about 30 percent of Michigan’s population that was not counted in 2010, and that adds up to a loss of more than $97 million in federal funding, plus, in 2010, the loss of two congressional seats in D.C. In 2020, Michigan is at risk of losing yet another congressional seat.

That’s a lot to lose.

Census data is used to determine the allocation of federal funding to support state and local services and the people who use them. So is funding for upgrades to Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and pothole-ridden roads.

Census data is also used to provide crucial services for kids, including K-12 education, nutrition assistance, Medicaid, Title I and Special Education Grants, Foster Care and Child Care Grants, Section 8 Vouchers and Head Start/Early Start.

As a result of the 2010 census, Michigan received more than $14 billion in federal funding.

Children are especially hard to count. They may live with grandparents or, if in a shared custody arrangement, they may move between homes. A primary place of residence may not have been identified, which leaves these children vulnerable to not being counted.

If we do not get an accurate count of Michigan’s kids, hundreds will miss out on vital services. In addition, our schools will be in danger of not receiving adequate federal funding to help rebuild their national competitive rankings.

Focus groups conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau show that people are concerned about the confidentiality of their personal information: the security of it in this age of Big Data breaches and how the federal government will use it.

In addition, the inclusion of the citizenship question continues to be controversial and problematic. While still under legal review, the fact that it exists may discourage immigrants from participating in the census, which can lead to an incomplete count.

By law, census data can only be used for one purpose: counting the residents of the U.S. The type of demographic information collected has not changed much over the years and typically require less information than most people reveal on their social media profiles.

We need every Michiganian to spread the word about Census 2020 and why getting a complete count will help our state and our communities thrive.

When everyone is counted, we all win.

Donna Murray-Brown is president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Hassan Jaber is CEO of ACCESS, an Arab American community nonprofit organization.