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2020 Census: Be Counted

By Amy Kuras 

Next year, the government is asking everyone in the country to stand up and be counted, and the consequences of not doing so could be serious for the Detroit region. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau takes a count of everyone currently residing in the country. That count — and it’s an actual count, not a guess based on samples — determines the number of seats in the House of Representatives allocated to Michigan.  

Each House seat represents about 711,000 people and is reapportioned as states gain or lose population. Michigan has lost five congressional seats in the last 50 years, which some believe has caused a significant hit to the state’s clout on the federal level. While the state has been adding population, other states have been growing more quickly, which means Michigan could stand to lose another seat after the next census.   

That risk grows if the state is undercounted. An accurate count is crucial, and the state government, the nonprofit sector, and elected representatives have been working behind the scenes for the past two years to make sure that happens.    

“This is our congressional delegation that represents Michigan’s voice in Congress, and the fewer people we have [completing] that compared to other states puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to federal appropriations and committee work,” says Kerry Ebersole Singh, state census director.   

Singh was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to head the state’s effort toward achieving a complete count. She directs the work of a 60-member complete count committee, which brings together representatives of various interest groups from across Michigan to help ensure every person in the state is counted.    

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-14th District) says that while seniority holds more power than the size of a delegation in the House, she is committed to helping ensure an accurate count in her district.   

“The loss of seats means the loss of representation, and that would be a problem, especially if that member has served in Congress for several years and has a lot of seniority,” she says.    

The state has granted $6 million to the Be Counted MI 2020 campaign facilitated by the Michigan Nonprofit Association, which has been mobilizing its members around the census since 2017. Nonprofits, because of the close and trusted relationships they often have with the communities they serve, are uniquely situated to help make sure historically undercounted groups like people living in poverty, non-native English speakers, and young children are fully represented.   

“There are so many populations in the state who have been undercounted, people whose voices are not heard,” says Joan Gustafson, an external affairs officer for the Michigan Nonprofit Association. “Our campaign is dedicated in large part to communicating to those communities these three Cs — that the census is convenient, confidential and critical.”

Amy Kuras is a Detroit-based writer with an interest in education and urban policy.