As a result, state government officials, Census Director Kerry Ebersole Singh and the Michigan Nonprofit Association launched the Be Counted campaign.
The campaign aims to achieve an increase in the participation rate from 78% to 82%, which was the highest participation rate in the country in 2010. That was achieved by Wisconsin.
Michigan had the fifth highest participation rate in 2010. Singh said the state’s goal of an 82% participation rate is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as the percentage of questionnaires mailed back by households that received them. The rates exclude households whose forms were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as “undeliverable.”
To meet that 82% goal, the state has identified counties that could be undercounted in the 2020 census, which will be delivered to residents later this month.
The state includes Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo among the 10 counties at risk of being undercounted.
The estimated population that is at risk to be undercounted in Kent is 120,262. For Kalamazoo and Ottawa, it’s 51,792 and 45,776, respectively.
“The U.S. Census Bureau put together an algorithm, a math equation, that takes a lot of different things into account to predict which area of a region will be harder to count and less likely to respond to the census this time around,” said Chelsea Maupin, research manager for Güd Marketing. “They take into consideration how people responded to the 2010 census and how different areas have responded to the American Community Survey, which goes out at different times and to different communities. (ACS) is done annually. They send out a longer form that has more questions to very small groups of people. About 300,000 people get it every month. Those two surveys along with housing, demographics and socioeconomic status are considered.”
Maupin also said the government knows from previous years that renters are less likely to respond to the U.S. census compared to homeowners, and they are less likely to get the forms in the mail because their address changes. Young people also are unlikely to complete the census along with lower income individuals.
“In Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties, some of the hardest areas to count are those living in student housing. So the Allendale campus for Grand Valley State University, Hope College, Kalamazoo Community College, Western Michigan University, GRCC, Aquinas, all of those areas that have high student populations tend to be less likely to respond because, broadly, it is the first time young people are taking the census and a lot of them are renters so they may or may not be getting the mail,” she said. “If they live in a dorm, it is usually handled a little bit differently. Oftentimes, students don’t know if they are supposed to do it or their parents back home are supposed to claim them, so there are points of confusion.”
While there is fear that those counties may be undercounted, over the past two decades the participation rate has mostly been increasing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2000, the census response rate in Kent County was 80%, which increased in 2010 to 82%. Ottawa County’s response rate for 2000 and 2010 remained the same at 85%. Kalamazoo County saw an increase from 80% in 2000 to 81% in 2010.
In an effort to continue that trend and to increase the participation rate in those counties and the state overall, the Be Counted campaign has been using different mediums such as radio, TV and newspaper advertising, direct mail, outdoor billboards, town hall meetings, public forums and digital channels like email, mobile texts and social media to make people aware of the 2020 census and educating them on what to do and the implications that may result if the forms are not completed.
Lori Latham, communications director for Kent County, said the county is working with its staff and community leaders to educate residents about the census.
“At the county level, we have several committees, councils and task forces, and all of those have individuals who are community leaders in the different segments of our population,” she said. “We are learning to educate those individuals and point them in the area where there are resources available so they can then communicate that to their constituencies. We are also working with our local units of government to make sure they have materials they can send out to their constituencies. We are also educating our own workforce about the importance of being counted.”
An increase in the participation rate would have a major impact on Michiganders. According to Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the 2020 census impacts funding for public safety, health care, education, roads and infrastructure.
“An inaccurate count would affect the lives of Michigan families for the next 10 years because there are no recounts,” he said.