Without any explanation, the Trump administration has made an abrupt decision to end the decennial census count a month earlier than expected, putting Detroit’s largely minority population even more at risk. The original Oct. 31 deadline for census responses has been moved up to Sept. 30, leaving the city with one less month to make Detroit count.
The move is concerning because not only is there less time to collect census responses, a population count that only happens once every decade, but because the Trump administration had initially supported the idea to extend the deadline back in April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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“I am very alarmed by the new changes in the census timeline,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee and nationally recognized expert on the U.S. census. “The Census Bureau is being essentially forced to rush remaining counting operations and to curtail critical quality checks and data processing activities in order to meet the current deadline for reporting the apportionment numbers.”
When asked about the change, U.S. Census Bureau officials responded that it “is working to complete data collection as soon as possible, as it strives to comply with the law by delivering a complete and accurate count of every person living in the country by the statutory deadline.”
By law, the deadline for the Commerce Secretary to deliver the final census count to the president is Dec. 31.
“The earlier deadline is part of an effort to meet that requirement,” officials stated, even though the bureau said it needed extra time to complete the national head count because of the delays caused by COVID-19 and asked for an extension to April 2021.
What does this mean for Detroit?
The census count has been an uphill battle for Detroit. As of Wednesday, only 48.8 percent of the city has responded to the census, even with the city’s robust efforts to get residents to respond.
Victoria Kovari, executive director of Detroit’s 2020 Census Campaign, had previously said that city officials were planning a targeted last-minute outreach to residents in October with a new sense of urgency to fill out the census before the deadline. With the sudden change, Detroit, which is 80 percent Black, is even more at risk for being undercounted and underfunded.
“Many of the communities that are considered the hardest to reach in the census and that have been historically undercounted disproportionately, such as predominantly Black neighborhoods, have also been hit the hardest by the coronavirus — putting cities like Detroit at a disadvantage,” said Lowenthal.
“The constant politicizing of our census has been disgusting and really undeserving.”- U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib
The new date is “going to have devastating impacts on communities like mine” said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., whose district includes the western half of Detroit. “Trump and the Republicans are working overtime to sabotage the federal government from the inside out. Whether it’s the Postal Service or the Census, Trump is so unpopular that they’ve now resorted to rigging the system.”
Tlaib, along with the House Oversight and Reform Committee spoke with the U.S. Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham during a hearing Wednesday to hold the administration accountable and question the decision to rush the apportionment count.
“The constant politicizing of our census has been disgusting and really undeserving,” Tlaib stated. “For me, it’s not just about reapportionment — it’s also about class sizes, health care, services for our residents.”
Having an accurate count is important for Detroit as the responses decide how $675 billion in federal funding will be allocated — supporting everything from transportation and infrastructure to education programs like school lunches to public health-care spending like Medicaid.
Even though Michigan has the fourth highest response rate in the country — 69 percent according to the Census — Gilda Jacobs, CEO at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said the number is not reassuring.
“All of the services for different communities are based on what the census results are for those specific communities,” Jacobs explained. “We can’t be fooled by saying ‘we’re leading the nation.’ I want to be able to lead the nation in underserved communities.”
Tlaib believes that counting everyone in a pandemic requires extending the deadline, not shortening it., “This is clearly calculated to undercount cities and punish the president’s political opponents. I will continue to fight to ensure this count is done in a timely manner.”
Michigan’s congressional seat at stake
According to census data, Michigan’s population was estimated to be 9,986,857 as of July 1, 2019 — up 1 percent from 2010. However, Professor Reynolds Farley at the University of Michigan Population Studies Center estimates the state might drop a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to the lack of population growth.
“The response rate is low in Detroit, Flint and in several of the state’s rural counties,” Farley said. “Michigan will lose one seat in Congress and the Electoral College after this census. Michigan’s population has been growing very slowly since the 1970s. The loss of one seat is almost certain.”
Losing a congressional seat wouldn’t be far-fetched — Michigan lost two seats after the 1990 census and one seat after the 2000 and 2010 counts according to census data.
The possibility of losing representation is real, which means underserved communities in Detroit would also lose a voice in the federal government.
“I think when the census bureau is forced to rush and cut short the counting and data processing operations, all bets are off with respect to the congressional apportionment outcome,” Lowenthal explained. “The administration has essentially thrown the 2020 Census into turmoil.”