Michigan is gearing up to count the youth and homeless populations that are key to its federal funding and representation.
“Kids often get missed, especially in households with lower income,” said Parker James, a policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy. “If we miss kids, then we miss out on really important dollars to help those kids.”
And people, particularly children, who lack a stable residence are at risk of going uncounted for in the upcoming 2020 Census.
Nearly 16,000 children up to age 4 lack a fixed nighttime residence in Michigan, according to the League for Public Policy. Among the highest county rates of homeless children under 4 are 13% in Arenac County, 12% in Lake County and 11% in Alger County.
One of the hopes for greater accuracy is that the census form is available both online and on the phone for the first time, James said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to achieve the best count that we can,” he said. “I think we need to make sure that we continue to ramp up our efforts.”
The state launched a Complete Count Committee in June with lawmakers and association leaders to get ready for census day April 1. Partnerships with local governments can estimate people at risk of being missed by identifying where they might frequent, like a church or a grocery store, James said.
The U.S. Census Bureau gathers data from homeless shelters, Volunteers of America, the Salvation Army and other organizations that work with homeless people.
The Michigan Nonprofit Association also began video, billboard and radio campaigns that emphasize the consequences of undercounting residents.
The organization also helps local nonprofits host forums to assist people in completing the census.
“We think we’re uniquely suited to communicate with a lot of these groups,” said Joan Gustafson, the organization’s external affairs officer. “Nonprofits are in communities; they understand cultural sensitivities, they’re working with people every single day.”
Census data determines the number of representatives, the electoral votes and a state’s portion of federal funding for a variety of programs.
Programs dependent on census data include Medicare, Medicaid, free and reduced lunch, and school funding.
“Our campaign has estimated that for each person that doesn’t get counted, Michigan stands to lose $1,800 per person per year for 10 years,” Gustafson said.
It’s those funding implications that prompted the Michigan Townships Association to accelerate an effort to improve the count, said Neil Sheridan, the group’s executive director.
Barriers for an accurate count are mistrust and disinformation, he said.
“We still have people who distrust completing a census form generally, but also we live in an era where there are so many different ways for fraud,” Sheridan said.
“Do it, and don’t rely on being reminded about it later. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s private. The data is well-guarded, and it’s something that we can trust,” he said.
Below is the percentage of homeless children in select West Michigan counties according to information from the Michigan League for Public Policy.