Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, right, speaks with Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah on Thursday about the importance of the U.S. Census to Detroit. (Courtesy photo)
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has famously said he should be judged on whether he’s able to reverse the city’s 60-year population skid.
So far, it’s one goal he can’t reach, as Census estimates show Detroit has slowed the rate of decline – but hasn’t ended it – since Duggan’s 2013 election.
City officials have privately doubted the Census estimates for years and contended the city population is actually slowly increasing. They’re determined to ensure Detroit is fully counted for the 2020 Census.
On Thursday, Duggan told a gathering at the Detroit Policy Conference the city is gearing to hire 100 people to knock on doors and raise millions to spread the word about the Census.
Detroit is determined to avoid undercounts, which the mayor said contributed to a stunning 25 percent city population decline to 713,777 from the 2000 to 2010 Census. The Census Bureau now estimates Detroit’s population is about 673,000.
“The discussion about the minority underreported numbers is real,” Duggan said at the event at MotorCity Casino sponsored sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get people counted.”
More than bragging rights are at stake. Federal funding for programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and education assistance is tied to population, as is political representation.
The 100 workers hired by Detroit will complement thousands of U.S. workers who are counting southeast Michigan, said Victoria Kovari, executive director for the Detroit 2020 Census Campaign.
The count starts next spring, and city workers will use technology to monitor Census tracts where less than 70 percent of estimated households are responding to the Census, she said.
Then the city’s Census “troops” will go knock doors and help people fill out the forms, Kovari said.
In the meantime, the city needs to raise money to publicize the importance of participation, Kovari said. So far, the effort has raised $1.7 million.
Jane C. Garcia, board chair for Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, and Hassan Jaber, executive director and CEO of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, said immigrants and people of color often do not want to respond to the Census because they don’t trust how the information will be used.
“It’s a government form and that’s very scary,” Garcia said. “There’s been significant undercounting among the minority community. Period.”
Another issue: The U.S. Supreme Court in February agreed to decide whether Trump administration can add a question about citizenship to Census forms. Foes of the plan say the question would discourage immigrant participation.
Jaber said the issues of confidentiality and language barriers often lead to undercounting. It’s an issue statewide, she said, and not just for people of color.
“This is a problem that doesn’t impact one community and leave others. It’s a problem that will impact all of us,” he said.
In addition to immigrants, Duggan said there are easily 20,000 Detroiters who live in high-rise apartments but are not counted as Detroiters because they insure their cars at a home in the suburbs to save money.
“Two thirds of people in high rise apartments today claim they don’t live in the city of Detroit … who say ‘I live with my mom and dad in Sterling Heights,’” Duggan said.
“If you want the city of Detroit to have representation and services you have to fill out the form.”
The Census is not connected to car insurance or voter rolls, he said, imploring Detroiters to fill out the Census truthfully.