With high stakes, state gears up for census

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s that time of decade again.

Though the next U.S. census won’t take place until 2020, Michigan and other states will soon begin the groundwork to prepare the country for its upcoming headcount.

With more than 327 million people to be counted, states will be responsible for confirming federal address lists and making sure new residents are identified and their addresses recorded.

Michigan employs a full-time state demographer, Eric Guthrie, dedicated to leading its census preparation efforts.

Guthrie serves as Michigan’s liaison to the US Census Bureau regarding the Federal and State Cooperative for Population Estimates, a collection of state-level agencies that review, update and verify population estimates.

“This is kind of an ‘all hands on deck’ type of situation, where the federal government is handling the actual nuts-and-bolts setup and everybody is working together to make sure the work itself that needs to happen” gets done, Guthrie said.

Among other purposes, census data is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. With a population of 9,883,640 according to the 2010 census, Michigan currently has 14 congressional districts.

The information also affects distribution of federal aid.

More than $589 billion was distributed between the states and Washington D.C. through “census-guided” programs in the 2015 fiscal year, according to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.

The 2020 census will be the first census in which all forms can be filled out electronically, a major change that Guthrie said he hopes will not only make it easier for individuals to respond, but will cut costs as well.

“The census is a very important project that will affect every area for the next decade in terms of representation and funding,” Guthrie said. “Everything we can do to make sure it’s successful will be for the common good.”

The Local Update of Census Addresses Operation, or LUCA, a program allowing local governments to compare their address lists to the Census Bureau’s, will begin in February. LUCA will help to make sure the Census Bureau’s address list is as accurate as possible for the coming count, he said.

“Which is highly important, because the census is essentially a household survey,” Guthrie said.

“In order for the census to make sure it reaches every household, it has to have the most current address list possible.”

In addition to LUCA, Guthrie will begin a state-level review of Michigan’s address list. The state recently hired two full-time demographic analysts who will help with preparation efforts, he said.

“Every administrative unit in the state is offered an opportunity, so that goes down to Michigan’s smallest village and township all the way up to the city of Detroit and the state,” Guthrie said. “They will get the list of all the addresses within their jurisdiction.”

Different-sized units might employ different methods, Guthrie said.

Small areas might use paper address lists and perform their comparisons manually, while Guthrie, working with several million addresses on the state level, might make electronic comparisons to look for areas with the largest discrepancies.

A large part of census preparation is getting the word out and making sure people understand why it’s important, Guthrie said. That becomes more complicated for more sparsely-populated areas that might lack resources.

“When we start thinking about more rural, spread-out populations that are not able to participate, that makes the process of counting those persons more labor-intensive on the Census Bureau’s part and may result in more difficulty counting those populations,” Guthrie said.

Michigan will participate in LUCA on a statewide level, but a large number of individual counties are not participating, including many in the Upper Peninsula and the Northeast Lower Peninsula.

LUCA efforts require local governments to use their own staff and resources, which might be one of many reasons certain areas decide not to participate, Guthrie said.

Wexford County and Cadillac are both individually participating in LUCA, according to the Census Bureau..

Meanwhile, Gladwin County is not participating and will be counted by the state, but Gladwin and other communities within the county will participate individually.

Clare County is not participating in LUCA and will be counted by the state.

Guthrie said, “I’m going to do the best I can to review areas that didn’t sign up to participate, but I’m at the largest level. I’m going to supply whatever addresses I can find that the census doesn’t have, but I might not have them all myself.”