Lansing, Detroit and northern Michigan regions lag in last-minute census push

Sign advertising for census workers, St. Ignace | Susan J. Demas

Census workers across the state have just under a month left to count every Michigander under a sped-up timeline.

In total, 85.1% of Michigan households have been counted in the 2020 census. Michigan is about equal to the national average for total households counted, which sits around 84.9%.

The census determines how much federal funding Michigan receives for public safety, health care, education, roads and infrastructure through 2030. For every person that goes uncounted, the state could lose $1,800 of federal funds each year, according to the Council of Michigan Foundations.

But according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a few regions around the state are lagging in their rates of getting people who didn’t initially respond to the census to complete it. 

U.S. Census Bureau map of non-responsive areas in Michigan

“Michigan overall has done an exceptional job in responding to the census,” said Kerry Ebersole Singh, director of the Michigan 2020 Statewide Census campaign. “Now as we move into the final 30 days, we do have areas that are still trailing 2010 numbers. So this non-response follow up period where the Census Bureau is going door-to-door to collect responses for addresses that haven’t yet responded is just critical for us getting to a complete count.”

The state is divided into five area census offices (ACO); Macomb County, Oakland County, Traverse City, Detroit and Lansing. 

These ACOs follow up with households who have not yet filled out the census and make sure that all the registered households still exist. 

The Oakland County ACO, which includes neighboring Livingston County, as well, has completed 80.1% of the non-response followup workload. 

The Macomb County ACO, which includes the “Thumb”-region of the state, Bay County, Shiawassee County and Saginaw County, has completed 68.4% of the non-response followup workload.

U.S. Census Bureau cuts short door-to-door effort, could cost Michigan

The Lansing ACO, which is composed of southern, western and mid-Michigan counties, has completed 51.7% of the non-response followup workload.

The Traverse City ACO, which includes the Upper Peninsula and most of the state north of Kent County, has completed 48.8% of the non-response followup workload. 

The Detroit ACO, which is only Wayne County, has completed 46.9% of the non-response followup workload. 

The U.S. Census Bureau will update this data at 3 p.m. every day through Oct. 6.

All three of these regions saw at least a 2% increase in non-response follow up completion since Wednesday, and Ebersole Singh said that’s largely because door-to-door operations have ramped up as the deadline quickly looms. 

Whitmer, 7 govs. ask Census Bureau to re-extend deadline

In Michigan, non-response work kicked off in early August after being delayed due to safety concerns around door-to-door operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Then in late July, the Census Bureau quietly moved the end date for all census-taking operations from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, as the Advance previously reported.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with seven other governors, wrote a letter on Aug. 18 to the Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce asking that they re-extend the national census collection and response deadline back to the original date.

However, it doesn’t seem like that change will be coming. 

The “Michigan Be Counted” campaign, a collaboration between the state of Michigan, U.S. Census Bureau and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, set out with a big goal of 82% participation for the 2020 census. 

The majority of Michiganders who have filled out the census—70.2%— filled it out online, by phone or by mail, while 14.9% of households in the state were counted by census takers and other field data collection operations.

Michigan 1st in nation to hit census milestone

Because the participation rate is calculated differently than the response rates, Ebersole Singh said that they believe if Michigan reaches a total self-response rate of 71.7% then the state will be able to reach its total goal for the campaign. 

Michigan’s self-response rates have increased in the last month since door-to-door operations began statewide Aug. 11.

Flint and Detroit are two metro areas with lower than average response rates, but both cities are expected to hit the 50% self response rates within the next week. 

Urban areas are considered hard-to-count communities, which are usually composed of young people, racial minorities, people with low incomes, people experiencing homelessness and undocumented immigrants. 

City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) leaders are hosting a press conference next to week to urge residents in the area to fill out the census, saying there is more than $1 billion at stake for the Grand Rapids community. 

COVID-19 scrambles census plan, leaders stress online option

College towns are also seeing lower response rates, which was a concern for census workers in Michigan after schools and colleges closed in March due to the pandemic and many students left their college towns. However, most campuses have opened this fall.

But Ebersole Singh said that reaching the hard-to-count populations is a priority for the campaign in the next month. 

“It very much is an all hands on deck moment as we watch the U.S. Census Bureau rush to complete operations, and we have been working with our communities and stakeholders around the state to also support our communities in getting to a complete count,” she said. 

This census campaign is the largest in state history with an unprecedented $16 million allocated by the state Legislature for census outreach and participation.

“While we have more work to do … this has really been an extraordinary story for Michigan, because we have communities, nonprofits, the business community, local units of government and the state government coming together,” Ebersole Singh said. “Everyone recognizes how critical this funding is. It is giving us a solid foundation as we face uncertain times, especially with all the challenges that we’re up against right now.”

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.