Posted on April 6, 2010

Census Battling Fear, Confusion With Aid at Stake in Metro Detroit

Steve Neavling, Detroit Free Press, April 5, 2010


Most difficult places to tally

Darrel Davis, a panhandler who fetches crumpled dollar bills and recyclable cans off an I-75 exit in Detroit, pays no attention to the hype surrounding the decennial U.S. census.

“Are you kidding? The census?” the 46-year-old asked, fumbling a hand-rolled cigarette. “I got bigger problems.”

In Dearborn, where a large Muslim population lives, Hasan Khalil said he’s skeptical of the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and isn’t sure he’ll fill out his census form.


Metro Detroit is one of the most difficult places to tally because of the high number of lower-income people, immigrants, non-English speakers and others who fall into what the U.S. Census Bureau considers hard-to-count categories.

Hoping to combat fear, confusion and complacency surrounding the census, hundreds of volunteers and dozens of federal government employees and politicians are hitting the street with extra zeal this month to encourage everyone to be counted.

A lot is at stake–$400 billion a year. That’s the amount the federal government sends to local communities based on demographics and population.

For each resident counted, about $1,400 returns to the community annually for education, health care, hospitals, roads and other services.


In 2000, just 62% of Detroiters and 52% of Hamtramck residents–where many of the hard-to-count populations live–mailed back their census forms. In all of Michigan, 71% of residents returned census forms.

The return rate, as of Sunday, three days after the deadline for forms to be returned, was abysmal in lower-income areas of southeast Michigan, and in areas that are home to a large proportion of immigrants and African Americans, two other populations considered hard to count.

The return rates were 45% in Detroit, 39% in Hamtramck, 46% in Highland Park, and 51% in Ecorse, the lowest in southeast Michigan. The state average is 63%, despite a campaign blitz with billboards, block parties and TV, newspaper and radio ads.