The Word from Lansing: 2020 Census—Counting Our Communities

A crowd of people walking down the street

Update: The 2020 U.S. Census timeline has been shifted in order to better protect the health and safety of the general public and the U.S. Census Bureau employees during this COVID-19 pandemic. Michiganders now have until October 31, 2020 to respond.

As we see discussed in the Bible, the Holy Family traveled to Bethlehem prior to the Birth of Jesus to be enrolled as part of a Roman census effort (Luke: 2). Many communities throughout history have since carried out similar counts, gathering data to more effectively implement policies and to distribute resources among their populations. In this country, the Constitution requires a national census take place every ten years.

Beginning this March, individuals across the country and its five territories will participate in America’s twenty-fourth census. Certainly, the 2020 Census will look different than the country’s earliest in 1790, when U.S. marshals rode door-to-door on horseback. In fact, for the first time, this year’s process will record responses online in addition to offering traditional mail and phone options.

The purpose of the census, however, remains the same. The 2020 Census will set for the next decade federal legislative representation in all fifty states, guide emergency preparedness planning, and determine the amount of federal funding that will be allocated to communities. Without fully knowing how significant each of these tasks is, Michiganders may think the census is simply another item on their already crowded to-do lists. However, participation in the 2020 Census matters a great deal for three reasons:

  1. Legislative Representation. The census directly impacts how Michiganders are heard in the U.S. House of Representatives. The number of Congressional seats has been set at 435 voting members since the early 1900s, with population data from the census helping to divide those seats among the fifty states. Michigan’s representation has dropped from nineteen seats in 1970 to fourteen in 2010. This year, the state is at risk of losing yet another seat. In addition to determining how many congresspersons will represent Michigan, the census also influences how federal and state legislative districts are drawn.
  2. Emergency Preparedness. Local governments use census data to understand more clearly where people live, which can lead to greater effectiveness in emergency preparedness and public safety plans.
  3. Federal Funding. The census informs how billions of federal dollars are allocated to local communities, determining whether items such as roads, hospitals, schools, and fire departments can support resident health and well-being. The more accurately Michiganders are counted, the more accurately funding can meet local needs. In Fiscal Year 2016, Michigan received almost $30 billion through fifty-five federal programs that used 2010 census data, including:
    • Over $510 million for grants for tutoring, textbooks, and other school programs.
    • Approximately $12.7 billion in Medicaid funding for hospitals and clinics.
    • Almost $2.4 billion to assist low-income women and families with nutritional needs and education (Women Infant Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
    • More than $1.1 billion for highway planning and construction.

Invitations to participate in the census will begin arriving in March. Unfortunately, research has found that too many people—including young children, those experiencing homelessness or poverty, and those in densely populated urban areas —are typically undercounted. To that end, Governor Gretchen Whitmer established the 2020 Complete Count Committee, of which I am a member. The Committee has been hard at work identifying barriers to census participation and developing potential solutions. A few examples of actions that could boost census turnout include addressing community misconceptions, sharing information about census confidentiality protections, providing internet access or in-person visits to those who need it, and offering translators or materials in different languages.

Michiganders will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate that participation in the U.S. 2020 Census matters, ensuring that the state receives accurate representation and funding for local needs. Please encourage family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors to respond to the census over the next several months. Every person has value and all of us deserve to be counted. Learn more at