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Stateside: U of M prof on Detroit's Census challenge

census letter
Enayet Raheem

Detroit became the largest American city to officially challenge its 2020 Census count this week, and it comes armed with a study supporting its claims that the city’s population was undercounted.

The Census pegged Detroit’s population that year at around 639,000. That was a 5% decline from the Census Bureau’s own 2019 estimate, making Detroit an “outlier” among major U.S. cities, according to University of Michigan Ford School Professor Jeffrey Morenoff.

Morenoff, who was a guest on Stateside on Wednesday, said that raised researchers’ suspicions. So Wayne State and University of Michigan sociologists launched a study to examine the Census results.

Morenoff said that with a combination of on-the-ground canvassing and U.S. Postal Service data, they found that the Census likely undercounted the city’s population by at least eight percent in some key neighborhoods. “We saw evidence that probably the 2020 Census was what was responsible for the undercount,” he said.

Morenoff said that Detroit had one of the lowest online Census response rates of any major city, and so “needed a lot more non-response follow up, as they call it in the Census,” he said. “Which means teams on the ground going around to neighborhoods, knocking on doors and trying to see where people are living.” But he noted “that work got started late in Detroit, and perhaps was under-resourced in Detroit.”

Morenoff said that “a mix of factors” likely led to the undercount in Detroit, and noted that it’s not the first time the city has challenged Census results. But it is fair to say that people of color, especially Blacks and Latinos nationwide, have probably been undercounted, more so than others,” he said. Detroit is about 80% Black.

“The Census Bureau now has an obligation to set the record straight,” Duggan said in a letter to the Census Bureau, noting that a “roughly 8% undercount of Detroit’s population in the 2020 Census creates disastrous financial consequences for the City.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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