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Poverty Solutions affiliate Morenoff testifies on 2020 Census undercount of Detroit

On July 25, Jeffrey Morenoff, professor of public policy and sociology, and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the magnitude and implications of the undercount of Detroit’s population in the 2020 Census

In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated Detroit’s population to be 670,031 people. However, results from the 2020 Census purported a count of 639,111, suggesting that the city had singularly lost over 30,900 people, or 4.6% of its population, in one year alone.

Concerned by the likelihood of an inaccurate Census count, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office asked Jeffrey Morenoff and other researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University to undertake an independent study to determine whether there was evidence of an undercount in the 2020 Census.

Examining the data from this study, Morenoff discussed the existence of an undercount, its causes, and ideas for improving future Census accuracy before the U.S. Senate committee.

“If Detroit really had lost over 30,000 people from 2019 to 2020, I would have expected to see a somewhat comparable decline during the following year, but this is not what the data show,” Morenoff said in his testimony. “In short, the 2020 Census population count for Detroit was anomalous and difficult to reconcile with the city’s population trend over the prior decade or its estimated population change from 2020 to 2021.”

Morenoff and his collaborators build their inferences from a comprehensive analysis of population trends in Detroit and other comparable cities, a visual audit of housing in 4,350 Census blocks, and United States Postal Service Data. Although researchers do not know for certain the scale of the undercount citywide, if undercounts of a similar magnitude are found in a majority of the city’s more than 600 block groups, the ultimate size of a population undercount could be in the tens of thousands.

To improve the count of Detroit and other cities in the future, Morenoff argued that local governments should be permitted continual access to specific information about which housing units are accounted for in the Census’ Master Address File before, during, and after the Census enumeration period.

Other witnesses at the hearing included: Duggan ; N. Charles Anderson, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Detroit & Southeastern Michigan; Jane C. Garcia, Vice Chair of the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development; Maha Freij, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services; and Kelley J. Kuhn, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Watch the hearing >
Speakers start at 18:15 minutes.

Related: Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS)