Rep. Debbie Dingell and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, both D-Ann Arbor, and four other panelists answered questions about the upcoming decennial U.S. 2020 Census on Saturday morning. The Ann Arbor League of Women Voters and Tappan Middle School co-hosted the event.
The 2020 Census will be conducted from March to July and is used to reapportion funding and congressional representation. Michigan residents can fill it out online, over the phone or by mail. They also may be asked to fill it out in person if their answers have not been received further into the canvassing process.
The event began with Margaret Leary from the League of Women Voters presenting on the logistics of census data collection and its importance for Michigan. Leary said the constitutional basis for the census is in Article I of the Constitution and emphasized that the census counts people living in the United States rather than just citizens.
“By definition, ‘hard-to-count’ people are hard to count,” Leary said. “They are children, college students, minorities and, most of all, people who are afraid of answering the census. It’s so important to spread the word about confidentiality. The U.S. Census Bureau is forbidden by law to release any individual information for 72 years. There’s a quarter million dollar fine and jail time for anyone who does that. They will not release that information.”
Each of the panelists then introduced themselves and spoke briefly about the importance of the census. Dingell focused on why Michiganders should take the census and the benefits filling it out has for the state, especially for children and disenfranchised populations.
“We want people to have access to health care, the number of federal dollars we get to help people will depend on what the census count is,” Dingell said. “We want to make sure that our kids aren’t hungry, we need to worry about affordable housing in the community. People have no idea how important this is.”
Rabhi echoed Dingell’s statements, explaining why the census is important and how it is part of the democratic process.
“An accurate count means people will have an opportunity,” Rabhi said. “People will have shelter over their head, people will have an opportunity to participate and vote in the fairest way possible in their democracy. This is the essence of who we are as Americans, the census is the essence of what the framers of the Constitution envisioned.”
Panelist Khyla Craine is a former employee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and current member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s National Social Action committee, a public service group consisting of college-educated African American women. Craine discussed how the census affects federal funding distributed to states and the apportionment of congressional representatives.
“Money, power and access — that is what the census is about,” Craine said. “675 billion dollars will be given out based on this data — that’s for 134 different programs. Make sure that our resources get back here to Michigan. It’s also about power. The census works on apportionment and if we do not have an accurate count, Michigan could stand to lose one of our representatives. We need to make sure that we have more people like Congresswoman Dingell fighting for our citizens here in Michigan.”
LSA Junior Carolyn Chen explained why she believes accurate census data is important, especially for cities that are already underfunded. Chen also commented on why more representatives would be beneficial, giving the example of parts of Detroit and Grosse Pointe that share a representative.
“With more accurate Census results and more funding, Michigan will get the representatives it deserves to further represent each city’s needs,” Chen said. “Certain cities in Michigan don’t get the political power they deserve, (and some cities like) Grosse Pointe and Detroit have largely different needs. Cities like Detroit deserve to have a representative that will voice their (specific) needs, but sharing a representative with Grosse Pointe doesn’t allow … democracy to function as it should.”
The panelists then took various questions from the audience, many about census logistics and how everyone would be counted, especially populations that are particularly difficult to locate or who may be apprehensive about disclosing information.
Chen also commented on why she believes civic engagement is especially important among college students and why more young people should participate, not only in census collection but also in elections.
“College students’ voices are extremely important, yet our voter turnout is extremely low every election,” Chen said. “As young adults, there is often a large discrepancy in having an opinion on politics and taking political action. It can easily seem as if our voices are too inexperienced and ignorant to have any real effect on the government. However, the voices of young citizens are what define the next generation.”
One audience member inquired about how those in Michigan without an address or internet access would be included, specifically members of Native American groups or people experiencing homelessness.
Kerry Ebersole Singh, Michigan Statewide Census director, explained Native American reservations undergo a different censusing process to ensure they are accurately counted. Rather than being mailed materials or encouraged to fill it out online, census employees will work with the reservations to go door-to-door and count individuals instead.
Michigan currently has a Native American population of over 45,000 and has 12 federally recognized tribes.
Singh also explained how the U.S. Census Bureau ensures people experiencing homelessness are accurately counted. She said the bureau will be working with shelters to identify where people are likely to be at certain times, in order to be counted.
Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org