Mandated by the Constitution, every ten years the United States Census Bureau conducts a national count of people, coast to coast, to gauge population growth, race and age, household incomes and other demographics. The results are used to help allocate federal funding for hospitals, schools, roads and many other infrastructures to ensure the full function of these locales. This term’s census count was met with a unique challenge causing a change in the execution of it.
If the pandemic was not enough, the Census Bureau stopped the necessary count roughly one month earlier than predicted. Halting door-to-door efforts, online responses, phone and mail-in forms, the census completed counting in September of 2020.
In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer formed the 2020 United States Census Complete Count Committee. Consisting of business and community leaders to represent the people, the committee worked to overcome various barriers and collaborate to obtain an accurate population count for the state. With over 10 million residents, the state will lose a congressional seat shrinking from 14 to 13 members in the House of Representatives. While this may not seem like a drastic shift, losing a seat would mean a slightly smaller voice in the House and less voting power.
“Each Michigander will have a slightly diminished voice in the national conversation as the state will be represented by one fewer person in Washington. Broadly speaking, Michigan did well at getting folks counted and increasing participation, so that will ensure the state continues to receive the appropriate allocations for any funding distributed based on population,” says Eric Guthrie, State Demographer for Michigan.
Set at 435 members in the House of Representatives, each state’s representation is based on its population size. Although the state’s population grew slightly since the 2010 census count by roughly two percent, Michigan’s lost seat will likely be a gain for a state in the country’s south or west as seats are reapportioned.
“That means we have one less member that communicates to the nation on behalf of Michigan and the Great Lakes,” says Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Since the 1980 census, Michigan has steadily lost seats and representation in the House. As Michigan continues its descending trend, residents could potentially pay the price. However, a shot at redemption will not come for another ten years when the Census Bureau conducts its next count.
“When the Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission redraws the district boundaries, they will draw one less district. This is the same process Michigan has experienced for at least the last four censuses.,” says Guthrie. “The only way to gain a seat is through the same process the state lost the seat. If the population change is sufficient within the context of the national population distribution after the next census, a seat could be gained.”
This decade’s census was met with an unpredictable challenge in dealing with a national health crisis. With the introduction of COVID-19, a sharp pivot in approach was forced and many organizations and entities had to shift their focus to ensure the safety of workers and the general public. The coronavirus helped to stifle response rates despite efforts to rally more support and participation in the 10-year assessment.
“Efforts were disrupted because just when we were getting ready to launch the census, it was deterred by the pandemic,” says Baruah.
The next ten years will be telling for Michigan as the population either grows or declines. With a growing economy, there is a chance of potential growth in major markets across the state such as automotive and technology. In addition to growing markets to attract relocation to Michigan, the state must put efforts towards keeping its talents local.
“These seats are based on the state and national population distributions, so anything that retains population or encourages positive net migration would have been a benefit. There is no single action or policy that would have changed this outcome,” says Guthrie.