Detroit challenges census numbers as Black headcounts predictably dip

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Detroit challenges census numbers as Black headcounts predictably dip
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Detroit has become the largest American city to challenge its figures from the 2020 census. The decision comes after a national headcount acknowledges that a higher percentage of African Americans were undercounted than last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

How did they know?

The Census pegged Detroit’s population in 2020 at around 639,000. That was a 5% decline from the Census Bureau’s own 2019 estimate.

University of Michigan Ford School Professor Jeffrey Morenoff stated there was evidence that the 2020 Census was likely responsible for the undercount. Subsequently, Wayne State and University of Michigan sociologists launched a study to examine the Census results.

Per ABC News, leaders of Michigan’s largest city, which is more than three-quarters Black, had questioned the results of the 2020 census since last December when they released a report suggesting that more than 8% of the occupied homes in 10 Detroit neighborhoods may have been undercounted.

After the 1990 census, then-Mayor Coleman Young sued and the numbers were later adjusted, however, over two decades later, the same problem persists.

Diana Elliott, an Urban Institute researcher, co-wrote a 2018 report that estimated anywhere from 900,000 to 4 million people could be missed.

Non-whites are often non-counted

In 2019, a year and a half before he was nominated to lead the Census Bureau, Robert Santos co-authored an Urban Institute report that stated African Americans could be undercounted nationally by 3.6% and Hispanics could be undercounted by 3.5%, in worst-case scenarios in the 2020 census.

In fact, the Black population was undercounted by 3.3%, those who identified as some other race had a 4.3% undercount, almost 5% of the Hispanic population was missed and more than 5.6% of American Indians living on reservations were undercounted, according to the Census Bureau.

Back in 2019, The Detroit Free Press warned of this, “When the U.S. Census Bureau starts counting people next year in Detroit, obstacles are bound to arise: The city has tens of thousands of vacant houses, sparse internet access and high poverty — factors that will make it the toughest community to tally.”

About 86% of Detroit’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods, by far the largest proportion of any major U.S. city, according to an AP analysis.

Do census challenges work?

Challenges are rarely successful, but Detroit’s outcome could determine whether the cities and counties get their fair share when it comes to the distribution of $1.5 trillion in annual federal funding.

Though efforts to revitalize Detroit have proven fruitful for some, financial investments into the Motor City and its people would uplift Black citizens who are down, but far from counted out.

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