Macomb County a national leader in census response rate

Regional results exceed statewide rate with months to go

By: Maria Allard, Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published June 19, 2020


MACOMB COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic moved the census deadline back to Oct. 31, but so far, Macomb County is exceeding expectations.

At press time, the county was experiencing an approximate 78% response rate. For counties with 500,000-plus residents, Macomb County was leading the entire nation in response rate.

In comparison, the final overall rate for the county in the 2010 census was 75.4%.

As of June 15, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments posted data relaying a response rate of 71.3% for southeast Michigan. That rate was higher than the state rate of 67.7% and the national rate of 61.4%. Data are continually updated on the SEMCOG website.

On June 10, Macomb Community Action Director Ernest Cawvey said positive numbers are attributed to messaging, in the forms of county and social media outreach, direct mailers, and the work of the “Count on Macomb” campaign.

“We know we’re doing a great job,” Cawvey said. “That 78% equals about 697,000 residents who have already filled out the Census. We’ve already had a tremendous response, and for large counties, we’re leading the pack.

“But we know that these last months are the critical months. ... Residents are realizing more than ever that their local government is a support for residents when they’re most vulnerable. And your local government needs to count on residents to be counted because it’s related to many funding formulas.”

Such areas impacted by census feedback include transit, food assistance, healthcare, education and the environment. It was estimated that the county missed out on about $272 million in 2010 due to the percentage of residents who did not participate in the census.

Cawvey said Macomb County is targeting outreach based on municipalities that are hovering around a 60% response rate, including Warren, Clinton Township, Mount Clemens and Utica.

A variety of factors are attributed to lower responses rates. One factor involves families with children under 4 years old, with the children not being counted for whatever reason. Another is renter-occupied housing units, in which renters don’t believe they are to be counted. Language barriers and poverty are common factors in every census.

“Poverty in itself is a factor,” Cawvey said. “We’re looking to not encourage people to fill out the census, but provide some real incentives.”

Response rates fluctuate across the state.

According to the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Michigan currently has a 67.2% response rate. MNA, a non-partisan membership organization that serves the state’s nonprofits, has launched a campaign to reach those underrepresented individuals.

The MNA’s Census 2020 Michigan Nonprofits Count campaign encourages the underpopulated to fill out the census online, by mail or over the phone. In-person visits from census field workers were delayed until August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statewide campaign provides historically undercounted populations and the community organizations that serve them with resources and information to show why “Everyone Counts. Everyone Wins!” in filling out the census. The MNA has an office in Detroit and one in Lansing.

According to the MNA, the state’s historically undercounted populations include minority groups, immigrants, families with young children, senior citizens, those living in poverty, people in rural communities or anyone experiencing homelessness. It’s important for these individuals to fill out their census because that data, in turn, will provide funding for medical care, disability services, MIChild, food assistance and school programs.

“We’re trying to get people to self-respond. It’s important for us to get a complete and accurate count,” MNA External Affairs Officer Joan Gustafson said. “We’re trying to re-engage the public so we don’t miss out on resources or our rights. It will really affect our communities over the next 10 years. We’re making sure we count as many people as possible and draw out those federal dollars.

“There are a number of reasons why people may not fill out the census,” Gustafson said. “There’s misunderstanding and fear about privacy. There may be a language barrier or a reading barrier. People in rural areas may not have access to the internet.”

People also have failed to fill out their census data because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The census has taken a back seat to illness and job loss,” she said. “The census is only nine questions. They’re very basic questions. It can be done online, over the phone in the language of your choice or by mail. And all of the information is completely safe and confidential.”

Cawvey said the county will continue to reach out to communities in July and August with weekly events, including school partnerships. Due to some libraries remaining closed, the county seeks to provide internet access to those without it, in addition to phone or paper options.

Sites are being promoted by low-response municipalities, such as in mobile home communities and low-income dwellings.

A questionnaire assistance line has been established at (844) 330-2020. Phone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Residents are encouraged to call if they need help filling out their census. Census help also is available at the MNA website at