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Detroit sues US Census Bureau, claims feds undercounted residents

Detroit skyline

The City of Detroit has filed a federal lawsuit against the United States Census Bureau.

The city says the Census undercounted residents, particularly Black and Hispanic people, in its 2021 population estimation.

Mayor Mike Duggan says that based on the Bureau’s own statistics, it undercounted over 20,000 Detroiters in the 2020 census. The 2021 census says that the city also lost more than 7,000 residents between 2020 and 2021.

"This just defies reality where there's cranes all over this city in the one year period in 2021, 14 new major apartment buildings with a thousand units opened during that time. And my question is, how could anybody conclude we lost 7,000 people in one year?" Duggan said during a Tuesday press conference.

The lawsuit wants the census bureau to share the formula it used to determine the city’s population and then allow the city to appeal the current population estimates.

"The Bureau’s failure to consider evidence of its inaccurate 2021 estimate costs the city and its residents millions of dollars of funding to which they are entitled while threatening the city’s historic turnaround by advancing the false narrative that Detroit is losing population," the lawsuit reads. "The Census Bureau’s refusal to consider evidence that its 2021 estimate of Detroit’s population is wrong—in direct violation of its own administrative rule perpetuates racial inequality, and disproportionately harms Detroit and its communities of color."

Duggan said that he asked for data from DTE Energy, Detroit Water and Sewerage, and the U.S. Postal Office to check if the city has lost residents.

"DTE Energy says 7,544 more households in the city added gas and electric service. So the utility company says, we didn't lose people. We had 7,544 more housing units," Duggan said. "The Detroit Water and Sewer Department says we added 6,964 housing units during that year period. Another major gain. And the United States Post Office — another branch of the federal government that we thought the Census Bureau might include in their formula — the U.S. Post Office says the city of Detroit added 4,475 more residences delivering mail in that year. Those 4,475 residents would have had 11,000 people."

The U.S. Census Bureau says it does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI 14) also spoke during the press conference. She says undercounting will affect the federal funding the city receives for the next decade.

"It deprives cities, counties and towns and tribal governments their fair, intended share of resources for ten years," she said. "This isn’t oops, we made a mistake. So now we'll fix it next year. This is for 10 years. And so that's why this is serious."

Census data showsthat Detroit's population shrank from 639,614 to 632,464 from Census Day on April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. That's a decrease of more than 7,000 people.

Duggan says the population of Detroit should be around 680,000 but the Census estimated almost 640,000 in 2020, with a decline of 7,000 in 2021.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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