By Sherri Welch | November 12, 2017 | Crain's Detroit Business
- Michigan's nonprofit sector mobilizing more than two years before 2020 census to counter new challenges this year
- Fear among region's, state's large immigrant populations among issues that could affect counts in 2020 census and federal funding as a result
- It comes on top of other issues expected to affect counts, including lack of federal funding and a new online census format
The 2020 Census is more than two years out, but the Michigan Nonprofit Association is already launching a campaign to encourage populations that are typically underreported to take part in the census.
Among the complicating factors: A new online census form expected to roll out this year and fears among Michigan's Middle Eastern population and other immigrants, sparked by White House policy, could further hurt counts, Michigan nonprofit leaders said.
And that translates to lost federal funding for programs serving those populations and the state as a whole.
Michigan was one of the top states in the country for reporting during the 2010 Census. It actually saw a slight overcount. But that was largely due to double counts. Within that, populations of people who often rely on federally funded programs underreported, according to the state.
Populations that are typically undercounted include low-income, minority, immigrant, rural, renter and young children populations. In Michigan, minorities and young children, in particular, were underreported during the last census.
Many nonprofits serve those hard-to-count populations, putting them in a position to help allay fears, educate and to impress upon those often missed in counts how important it is to be counted.
"Distrust of government is at an all-time high," said Joan Bowman, vice president of Michigan Nonprofit Association.
"Nonprofits are one of the last trusted entities."
Given that it's home to the country's largest Middle Eastern settlement, the region and state — which also has significant Hispanic populations in Detroit and Grand Rapids — could face undercounts in immigrant populations.
Fears that census data could be shared among federal agencies — something that's illegal currently — and that sensitive questions of citizenship may be included on the form could deter immigrant populations from providing data for the census, nonprofit leaders said.
Policy considerations such as adding questions around citizenship to the census could deter participation in the census, said Debbie McKeon, senior vice president, member services for the Council of Michigan Foundations.
"We don't know yet, what may come out of that. ... It's definitely a concern that our undercount could be higher."
Hassan Jaber, executive director and CEO of Dearborn-based ACCESS and a member of the national advisory board to the U.S. Census Bureau, said he, too, has been hearing the concerns about questions on citizenship. But that hasn't come up during advisory board meetings.
Immigrants and minorities have expressed concerns, he said, that they feel targeted and are concerned about the use of private, individual census data for anything other than census purposes.
It's a serious issue, he said. "We need to be transparent ... be direct in terms of upholding the law (which) says that census information needs to be confidential and private."
What's at stake
Counts for citizens and immigrants alike affect the funding coming to Michigan and other states for programs serving those populations and the public as a whole, including housing assistance, Head Start, health care, highway construction and other programs.
The U.S. Census Bureau routinely undercounts those communities, the NAACP's general counsel Bradford Berry told The Washington Post in October. And the 2020 Census is shaping up to be an even more "egregious failure" on that front, he said.
Lack of a permanent director of the U.S. Census Bureau and decreased federal funding for the census efforts is hampering outreach aimed at decreasing undercounts.
In October, the NAACP sued the Trump administration, alleging the U.S. Commerce Department is illegally withholding information about its plans for the 2020 Census, including how it will make sure minority and low-income communities know about it, according to an article in The Washington Post.
Compounding those issues is the fact that the Census Bureau plans to introduce a new online option for submitting census data this year, which some nonprofit leaders fear could present access issues for people living in poverty and those with language barriers and concerns about online data breaches.
Hassan said the Census Bureau believes it can reach about 70 percent of the country's population with the online effort, while making reporting more efficient and reducing costs.
Census data also shapes business decisions about where to locate. And it will influence whether Michigan loses a congressional seat.
In fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30, 40 percent of Michigan's $56 billion budget came through federal allocations, a level consistent in recent years, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
Michigan stands to lose an estimated $1,800, per person, per year, for every person not counted, said Eric Guthrie, state demographer for Michigan.
That number is based on Michigan's annual federal allocations divided by its population and is only meant to give a sense of the impact undercounts have. The federal dollars are not allocated on a per-person basis, but rather through programs aimed at specific populations or projects.
A bad census count can impact allocations for 10 years, Guthrie said, given that census data is used as a basis for other estimates and federal allocations for the next decade.
During the last census in 2010, Michigan's overall population was over counted by about 0.1 percent, Guthrie said. Much of that was double counting caused by confusion over things like whether to count the grandmother or mother-in-law living in the cottage in the back yard.
Within that, however, were undercounts in the specific populations that tap federally funded programs, due to things like reticence to report, lack of ability to do so or errors such as forgetting to count a newborn child.
The Census Bureau does quality analysis in determining overcounts and undercounts, Guthrie said, building expected population numbers by analyzing birth and death records dating back to the 1930s and doing additional surveys to see if they match data collected during the census.
One thing working in Michigan's favor is the state was fairly high in terms of response rate, tied for fifth in the country with the 2010 census, Guthrie said.
"That's something we need to continue."
The Michigan Nonprofit Association has set a goal to get at least as many people in Michigan counted in the 2020 census as the last time around.
To do so, it's launching a statewide campaign to engage grassroots nonprofits that have relationships with hard-to-count communities and may be able to impact counts within those communities.
A $600,000 grant over three years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is funding outreach in four cities: Detroit, Dearborn, Flint and Grand Rapids.
Modeled on a similar effort that launched a year before the 2010 census, the 2020 Michigan Nonprofit Counts Campaign will provide training and tools to help nonprofits reach hard-to-count people and to award mini-grants to local nonprofits for the outreach.
Among other efforts, the Michigan Nonprofit Association is creating a committee of statewide nonprofit groups to take the message to their grassroots members and working with the Council of Michigan Foundations and its members to secure additional grants for broader outreach in Michigan.