Census Organizers Worry About East Lansing Undercount, Call for Recruits

Tuesday, December 3, 2019, 7:30 am
By: 
Chris Gray

The U.S. Census will have its work cut out for it to get an accurate headcount in East Lansing for 2020, a challenge that could cost the community federal resources if there turns out to be an undercount.

Local census workers are recruiting heavily for others to join their ranks, calling it a great opportunity to help the community and make extra cash for retirees and people working in the gig economy.

“We need your help, bordering on desperation,” said Jeff Kramer, a federal census worker who’s coordinating census efforts in Michigan. “East Lansing is undercounted. East Lansing has been undercounted for 30 years.”

Kramer said Ann Arbor was also undercounted — the transient nature of the student population makes the population of Michigan’s two leading college towns particularly hard to pin down, especially for students living off-campus.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a census every 10 years. The official population of East Lansing peaked in 1980 at 51,392 before falling to 50,677 in 1990 and to 46,555 in 2000, before growing again to 48,598 in 2010. The 2017 estimate is pegged at up just slightly since the last official count, to 48,844.

East Lansing Council Member Mark Meadows said the City could lose out on a lot of federal funding if the population is found to be fewer than 50,000. He said it had been a big mystery how the city’s population fell so much in the 1990s, since the area of the city grew significantly in that time through annexations.

“We couldn’t figure out where the bodies went,” he said.

Meadows said anecdotally that, as he canvassed houses for re-election this fall, he met a lot of younger families moving into housing that had been older residents four years ago. He was hopeful the head count would be higher than the 2017 estimate.

Individuals are counted wherever they are living on April 1. Students living in East Lansing are counted as residents here, not in other towns where their parents live or where they may consider their permanent residence.

Census workers will have a few months to follow up on residents they’ve missed, but most students do not stick around East Lansing in summer.

Kramer spoke before a special East Lansing Census 2020 Complete Count Committee last Monday, asking members of the committee to sign up to work for the Census when the heavy work gets way in the spring. He said they were short on their recruiting targets.

“You [would be] working in your own community. We’re not going to ask you to drive to the UP or anything like that,” Kramer said.

Most positions pay from $18 to $22 an hour and work is allotted in eight-week intervals. People can apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs.

Recruiting people to work for the 2020 Census may be even more challenging than for previous censuses. Ten years ago, a sluggish economy made it easier to recruit people for the short-term work of determining an accurate census. But now, the Census is up against record low unemployment .

As for the count, some communities, especially immigrant ones, may be fearful about cooperating with the federal government. The Trump administration had proposed to ask every resident if they were a citizen, a move that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Critics of that measure argued that such a question would scare immigrants away from participating, and drive down census numbers in areas with large numbers of foreign-born residents, especially Latinos.

“The Constitution says everyone needs to be counted. It doesn’t mean just citizens,” said Kristin Tweedale, a local small business owner who worked on the 2010 Census.

Given the tense political environment, it may still be hard to get immigrant communities to participate, but Census 2020 is reaching out to community leaders for help recruiting members of those communities who speak the language and can be trusted by others in the community.

Meadows said he was also concerned about undercounting these communities. He noted, however, that the data that people provide is not individually identifiable.

“There is no citizenship question on the short form. There’s nothing on there that would be revealing of anything.”

At last week’s meeting, Larry Rosen, the chair of the committee and a retired state demographer, suggested reaching out to Catholic Social Services and the Islamic Center of East Lansing for help counting populations that might be overlooked.

The City of East Lansing has also budgeted $10,000 in promotional materials for the census.

Everything from the area’s representation in local, state and federal government and the amount of federal dollars that flow to East Lansing and Michigan are at stake. Michigan is projected to lose one congressional district as well as a vote in the Electoral College because of loss of population from the 2010 Census to the 2020 Census.

More than $15 billion in federal and state funding is distributed throughout Michigan based on Census data. About $1,800 in federal funding is disbursed per person to communities each year. Census numbers affect funding for a wide array of programs, including housing, transportation, healthcare education and employment.

 

 

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