The 2020 Census has extended its deadline, giving citizens nationwide the opportunity to be counted. With just under 50 percent of Detroit residents responding, communities are racing against the clock for their responses to be recorded.
Responsible for counting the country’s population, the Census occurs every 10 years and is a key factor in determining federal funding and political representation. Detroit currently stands as one of the most undercounted cities. Victoria Kovari, Detroit 2020 director of Campaign, is working to change that.
“So, we’re right at about 50 percent, 49.8 percent. That includes all the addresses the Census has in their database which includes vacant homes and lots. Once the count is over, it will take into account the vacant lots and homes and recalculate the numbers,” Kovari explains.
Detroit communities in the downtown, Midtown and Wayne State University areas are the least represented. In addition to these communities, addresses in the 48206, 48204, 48214 and 48215 zip codes have low rates of reporting.
“Those would be the ones who are the lowest. They’ll all reporting at 35 to 40 percent,” Kovari explains.
To counter this, the Detroit Census Bureau has enlisted the help of several community organizations to encourage the residents to participate. Volunteers are going door-to-door to get responses from addresses who have yet to reply.
“We’ve hired 11 community groups to knock on doors and get people to fill out their Census,” Kovari says. “We’ve knocked on 236,000 doors and will probably knock on 100,000 more before the end of the month.”
Among the groups hired, The People’s Action, is doing its part in spreading awareness about the importance of completing the Census. Chief Operating Officer Jacqueline Robinson is helping to lead the charge.
“Our primary initiative is canvassing. We’ve knocked on over 75,000 doors over the last two months,” Robinson says. “We have been sharing the importance of completing the census on social media and working with stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are spreading the word, as well.”
As local community groups continue to shed light on the Census, Robinson believes distrust is leading to a low response rate.
“In this current social/political climate people are hesitant to divulge any information to the government. We have a very large immigrant community, as well as a lot of people of color. They are justifiably concerned; however, most are unaware that it is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal information,” Robinson explains.
A lack in responses could result in a loss of key financial support from Washington, D.C. Programs essential to education, road repairs, healthcare and emergency response could be affected by losing funding over the next 10 years.
“I think there are three main reasons why people should care. The first, the Census is equal to $5,000 per person per year that comes back to citizens through government funded programs like Medicaid, bridge cards and free lunches. Second, it determines our political population. Third, is a personal reason. It’s a public record. In 70 years when the records are released, families will be able to see where you lived and have a record of who you were.”
To encourage community involvement, the City of Detroit has launched a communications campaign aimed at raising responses for Detroit’s lowest represented neighborhoods. With the help of some of Detroit’s biggest names, the campaign is using the power of social media to influence the community.
“We’ve used a lot of influencers such as Kash Doll, Big Sean, Tommey Walker of Detroit vs. Everybody and Eminem to influence the community to fill the forms out,” Kovari says.
In addition to the social media campaign, the City of Detroit and its volunteers have begun canvassing the neighborhoods.
“We’ve been at food distribution sites to get folks to fill out their Census forms while they wait in their cars. We’ve offered incentives like five dollars off hairstyles at barbershops and beauty salons,” Kovari says.
As volunteers and the City of Detroit continue to canvass neighborhoods, concerns of COVID-19 make efforts strained. The Census requires residents to complete the information based on their address as of April 1. Due to the pandemic, some citizens, including college students, have left their homes and moved to combat the virus.
“COVID has really hurt the Census count because people have had survival on their minds,” Kovari explains. “Wayne State is really low. It’s not even at 40 percent. Most people have left their apartments and chose to fight the pandemic elsewhere.”
According to a press release from Charmine Yates, media specialist for Michigan with the U.S. Census Bureau, volunteers and workers have been trained on safety procedures and social distancing to keep themselves and residents safe.
Per the press release:
Census takers have completed training on social distancing and safety protocols, will follow local public health guidelines, and will be required to wear a face mask when conducting follow-up visits.
- Maintain social distance of 6 ft. or more.
- Practice hand hygiene.
- Not entering homes and conducting interviews outside as much as possible or practical.
Despite the pandemic, officials are urging resident to cooperate with volunteers in completing their Census. To identify a Census taker, check for an official badge with their picture, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. Residents can also contact the Regional Census Center to verify the identity of a worker.
“If someone comes knocking at your door for the Census, please answer the questions,” Kovari urges. “Its nine questions like age, race and name. There’s no questions about finances.”
It is not too late to record your responses for this decade’s Census report. The deadline to complete the 2020 Census is September 30. To complete, fill out the information online or contact the office at 844-330-2020. By law, responses are confidential and cannot be shared with any other government agency.