Mayor Mike Duggan said the Census Bureau missed about 10 percent of the city’s population. (BridgeDetroit photo by Ralph Jones)

Detroit’s population has decreased again, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Detroiters shared last fall that lack of trust in government and a fear of losing their privacy were among the reasons they would  not participate in  the census. Even more, off-campus students, like those who live in the Midtown area, had some of the lowest census response rates


According to the 2020 census data, Detroit’s population went from 713,777 in 2010 to 639,111 last year. 

Residents are asked to fill out the decennial census to determine population data, including where they live, to determine how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House. Michigan’s population grew slightly, but not as fast as other states, so it will lose a seat in Congress. The data is also used to determine the amount of federal funding provided to local entities.  

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, have said the city was undercounted in the census. An undercount would hurt the poor and disabled members of Detroit’s community the most, a segment of the population already considered a “hard to count” population.  

The 2020 census count was fraught with obstacles, leading to the question: Was Detroit truly undercounted?

According to the City’s Census Data map, the 2020 response rate was 51% — some neighborhood census tract response rates were as low at 36%, while others were closer to 80%.  

The 2020 presidential election sparked fear in many immigrant communities due to threats of border walls, changes to policy affecting residents’ and voters’ rights, and outright racist language. Nonprofit leaders said they feared many would decline to respond to the census, resulting in an undercount.

Even more, the coronavirus pandemic shut down civil society just as Census Bureau workers were scheduled to begin door-knocking campaigns and community events to encourage and remind residents to complete the census.

Census outreach was stopped one month earlier than scheduled in 2020. At the time, City officials said the lack of leadership from the Census Bureau would hurt localities. 

“It appears the Census Bureau has undercounted Detroit’s population by at least 10%. We will be pursuing our legal remedies to get Detroit an accurate count,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a written statement Thursday.

The mayor’s statement said he predicted an undercount in October, when census workers shared stories about Detroit neighborhoods. The mayor said that because DTE Energy has nearly 280,000 residential households currently paying electric bills, the census should at least reflect those households — but it doesn’t.

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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