Opinion: Have faith in the 2020 Census

James C. Perkins

For the past nine months, Detroit has been sounding the alarm, calling out with urgency to ensure every resident is counted in the 2020 Census. The message and the moment couldn’t be more crucial for us here in Detroit, still one of America’s blackest and most impoverished cities. We absolutely must be counted. The time is now.

By April 1, your household will receive an invitation for the 2020 Census. You can respond even in the midst of the coronavirus, from the comfort of your home. People can learn more and respond at 2020census.gov. The count will determine how much money our communities receive for school lunch programs, roads, Medicaid and much more. The once-in-a-decade opportunity for America’s voices to be heard is here, and we must make sure we are prepared. 

All of us count in the eyes of God. He created all of us in his image. As a pastor, I’m honored to stand beside the hundreds of religious, community and government leaders alike who are all committed to mobilizing a full and fair count in Detroit. 

A form for the U.S. Census 2020.

As National Census Day approaches April 1, we have to get out and turn up the volume even louder on the social, political and economic consequences for the decade to come, in Detroit and its neighborhoods. In 2010, Detroit trailed the nation in Census participation, with only 64% of residents completing forms compared to a 74% completion rate on the national level. Experts estimate that as many as 30,000 Detroit residents went uncounted in 2010.  

By completing the nine questions on the 2020 Census, which takes roughly 10 minutes, Detroiters can send the federal government a more accurate picture of our people and our most persistent needs. Census participation ensures Detroit it’s best chance of securing a fair share of congressional representation. The greater our rate of participation, the greater our chances of seeing the resources we need to fight the blight and poverty that limit opportunity for our children. 

The potential harm to the next decade in Detroit is too real to dismiss. For every resident left uncounted, the city could lose about $5,000 a year for programs like Medicaid and food stamps, foster care and education assistance.  

Faith leaders must  take an even more central role in educating residents about all that’s at stake in the 2020 Census. It’s an age-old myth that the census is the government’s way of spying, a tool to further disenfranchise communities.  

We can meet our neighbors face-to-face with the truth. It’s on our side. When we are counted, the information we provide helps businesses choose where to build factories, offices and stores — decisions that often result in neighborhood jobs. Real estate developers and city planners use the census to invest in neighborhoods, and schools use it to determine whether to hire new teachers. 

A Census 2020 form.

Every 10 years, the census offers a sliver of power to help reshape many of these key economic issues that persistently burden the spirit of Detroit and other so-called hard-to-count cities like Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Memphis, Tennessee, and Fresno, California. 

The decade ahead and millions of dollars in opportunity is in every residents’ hands, literally in the completion of a single questionnaire.

The Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins has been the senior pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit for 38 years.