Harper Woods leaders want to educate the public about the upcoming census

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published January 14, 2020

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HARPER WOODS — The United States government is beginning its census process to collect information and statistics about residents from across the country.

Adam Hollier, the state senator for Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes, is a member of Michigan’s Complete Count Committee, whose goal is to ensure an accurate count within the state. He wants to make sure people know what the census is and how crucial it is from the federal level to the local level.

“The first thing to know is that the census sees how many individuals we have in each community. This affects everything from the federal level to the state and individual communities. This is the government giving the community back their money in a number of ways. Every person who is counted brings about $4,000 to their community each year.”

Harper Woods City Manager Joe Rheker said accurate census data can affect a community in a variety of ways.

“Specifically, it could affect Harper Woods with (Public Act) 33, which is a specific tax for police and fire. We are currently using our maximum amount at 20 mills, and we need and use every bit of it,” said Rheker. “It’s for municipalities at 15,000 people or lower. If we went over that, we might not be eligible to use it anymore. So accurate statistics can make a big difference. … You never want to hope for a lower population, but we need accurate numbers to work with if we want to keep advantageous resources like this millage.”

Hollier said census data shows businesses where they will want to move or expand.

“Businesses look at population movements and what communities are growing or not growing, so this information makes a difference,” said Hollier. “Seeing if people are moving into an area or moving out of it can determine if they are going to relocate there or open a branch there.”

Additionally, the 2020 census could be of particular importance to Michigan residents because its results could determine whether the state loses a seat in Congress.

“Right now, Michigan has 14 congressional districts, but we could potentially lose a seat,” Hollier said. “There are a fixed number of congressional districts at the federal level. ‘Reapportionment’ is the process for figuring out how many of those districts will be in each state. Michigan is going through this process even though it has grown in population in the last 10 years, because it isn’t growing at the same pace as North Carolina. We are in some ways competing for this congressional district.”

The number of congressional seats also affects the impact Michigan has on presidential elections.

“When we talk about how many Congress representatives the state gets, it also affects how many members we get in the Electoral College,” Hollier continued. “We get one for each congressional district, plus two for our two senators. This won’t affect the 2020 election, but it would affect the 2024 election and everything else moving forward.”

“Collectively, we all are affected by potential redistricting,”added Rheker. “No one wants to lose a congressional seat. Representation lost is dollars lost for any state or community.”

Hollier and other state leaders are trying to educate people on the importance of the census and ensure people know that it is safe to be counted.

“There are a lot of communities or constituency groups that are traditionally harder to count,” said Hollier. “Young children can often not be properly counted. Homeless populations are difficult to count. People who are between residences or move frequently are hard to count. Minority groups often fall into this category. Communities of color are often marginalized, so they can be less trusting or less connected to institutions running the census. Immigration has really brought a lot of these concerns to the forefront.”

Adding to such concerns is the frequent topic of immigration. Fear of being recognized as an undocumented citizen often leads people to avoid the census. Hollier wants people to know they have nothing to fear.

“This is a time when national politics have made the census more political than it was in the past,” he said. “This includes how many state legislative seats there are and how federal dollars are spent. There are some states where people on both sides of the aisle are going back and forth on a lot of topics. Fortunately, in Michigan, Republicans and Democrats are united in seeing that every Michigander is counted. Everyone needs to know this isn’t going to be used for immigration data or deportation. It would be a federal crime to use census data for that purpose. There is no citizenship question, and noncitizens are supposed to be counted as part of the process. This goes all the way back to when Thomas Jefferson started it when he was president.”

Rheker reiterated how important the census is and how it is nothing to be feared.

“It’s something drilled into our head from the time we were first taught social studies and civics in school: If you’re not counted, you’re not doing your city or community any service,” he said. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s not the IRS. It’s not the FBI. It’s the census.”

Those with questions can get more information at www.census.gov. People need to get their information into the census via some means by April 1. This can be by mail, online or via those who visit home to home. The home visits begin after April 1 and will target those who haven’t responded yet.

“You can take the census online at www.census.gov once it goes live. When you fill it out or go online, you can prevent people from knocking on your door, if that’s something you don’t want. You also can find information about jobs there, because they are looking to hire people to help with the count,” said Hollier. “It’s really important that everybody gets counted. … It’s an easy way to make sure money is going to your community.”