Michigan’s population is likely to be slightly above 10 million in the 2020 census, and could set a new record, but there is a risk of an undercount, particularly among minorities and children under age 5, experts say.
That undercount could be as high was 0.56 % — or about 56,000 residents — according to state-by-state analysis by the Urban Institute.
The study projected that Michigan’s count will come in at 10,058,300. The current record for state population was set in 2004, at 10,055,315. The Census Bureau’s most recent population estimate was 9,995,915 as of July 1, 2018.
See 2018 population estimate for your Michigan city, township or village
The U.S. Census Bureau has released 2018 population estimates for cities, townships and villages.
The decennial census counts are critical for states as well as local governments because it determines the number of congressional seats apportioned to each state, and is used for drawing congressional districts and legislative districts within Michigan. Moreover, Congress distributes $800 billion annually to communities based on Census data.
“The census is incredibly important. It comes down to power and money,” said Nellie Tsai, community and civic engagement director for the Michigan Nonproft Association. Tsai spoke about the census at a June 3 workshop in Detroit.
The 2020 count begins next spring in Michigan, when most households will receive a letter telling them how to fill out the census form online or obtain a paper questionnaire.
At particular risk of being undercounted: African-Americans and Hispanics of all ages, as well as children under 5, the Urban Institute analysis said.
The study estimated the census may undercount Michigan’s African-Americans and Hispanics each by 3.5% — or 51,600 African-Americans and 18,300 Hispanics.
The undercount of young children could be as high as 5.6%, leaving 33,300 children under age 5 uncounted, the study said.
Those numbers could be offset by overcounts of other populations: The study projects a potential overcount of whites by 0.3%, or 21,100 people, and a overcount of those age 50 and older by 39,700.
There are a variety of reasons that certain populations could be under- or overcounted, experts at this census workshop said.
In the case of young children, it was a phenomenon first noticed in the 1990 and one that has persisted since, said John Thompson, who directed the 2000 U.S. census and former executive director for the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics.
That undercount is most prevalent among children under age 5 who live in “complex families” — i.e., children who don’t live with two biological parents and have young parents who are transitory. Those children — who may live in a blended family, with grandparents or other relatives, or as part of a household of unrelated adults — can fall through the cracks when the census form is filled out, the experts said.
Minorities — including African-American, Hispanics and immigrants — also can get undercounted because they are more likely to be renters or in unstable housing situations in which they get missed by census-takers, or may be wary of filling out the census questionnaire.
Adding to worries about an accurate count of immigrants is the current court battle over whether the census form will ask people whether they are a U.S. citizen.
The question has been not asked in a decennial census since 1950, and there are concerns that adding it to the 2020 form could discourage immigrants from participating in the census. The issue has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling this month.
Grand Rapids mayor says possible Census citizenship question a concern
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At the other end of the spectrum, overcounts can occur in other populations, such as older residents who have multiple residences; college students who get counted by their families in their hometowns as well as by the campus residence, and children in joint-custody arrangement where both parents include the child on a census form.
To ensure an accurate count in Michigan, the Kellogg Foundation has given $600,000 to the Michigan Nonprofit Association to work with community organizations around the state who can reach out to hard-to-count populations.
Tsai said her group is developing “specific strategies,” from advertising to other public awareness campaigns, so that people know the importance of the census and how to participate.
Experts say the city of Detroit is particularly at risk of undercount because it has a high number of minorities, immigrants, renters and those in unstable housing situations.
“Detroit has among the highest hard-to-count populations in the country,” said Hassan Jaber, CEO of ACCESS, a nonproft that serves the Arab-American community.
He said the issues surrounding the citizenship question, paired with President Trump’s anti-immigrant stances, complicate matters further.
“We are facing a very challenging political environment, and we need to navigate that environment,” Jaber said.
But his organization is among those committed to encouraging participation in the census, regardless of whether the citizenship question is included.
“The goal has to be a complete count,” Jaber said.