Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution makes it mandatory that there must be an orderly identification of the elected representatives allowed for each state in the U.S. based on a count of the country’s total population every 10 years. Therein lies the real purpose of the decennial American census—to determine, now out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, how many representatives each state is allowed based on the population living in each state.
Already, California, the largest state by population in the U.S. (with 53 members of the House), has been notified that it will lose one member of its congressional delegation because of a decrease in its population (and Texas, the next largest and with a population increase, will gain that one more seat). Of course, nobody in San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego agrees with that assessment—California daily seems to be adding population, not losing it.
When the Trump administration clumsily tried to interfere with the conduct of the census, it was to positively affect population numbers in Republican-led states. The attempt failed overall but left a lot of mess in its wake.
For instance, the huge city of Detroit, Michigan’s largest municipality, recently sued the federal government and the Census Bureau for what the city calls a vast undercount of its population. And Detroit officials say this is not the first time the city’s population has been shortchanged. Former Mayor Coleman Young had to sue the census bureau in the recent past over the same issue.
But why does that issue even matter, beyond the congressional count? Black people have been regularly undercounted in the U.S. and they were so again. Well, to be blunt, It’s all about money and resources from the federal government. There is to be over $1.7 trillion in money and assets sent from the federal government through the states to the cities in the aftermath of the census. The lower the population count, the more resources are subtracted from a municipality’s take of that funding.
For Detroit, it could mean the difference between $38 billion from the government, or $49 billion. The Census Bureau has already admitted that there was a serious undercount of African-Americans generally in the overall 2020 census, and Detroit, one of the largest cities in the U.S. is 75 percent Black. It was also not a popular entity with the previous Trump administration, which was in charge of the 2020 census.
Detroit officials say the census operation just never allocated the number of staff and the amount of equipment needed to get the job done properly.
Detroit is one of the few very large cities making this kind of challenge, so far. Most of the disputes have come from rural areas in the South, particularly where there are prison populations. Because of COVID-19 restrictions and lack of prison personnel, more than a dozen such areas have already filed complaints against the census count, saying due to the prison populations census takers usually did not visit their areas to make accurate counts.
But again, Detroit says it has a special situation and simply cannot afford the potential loss of revenue and resources from the government that will result in not winning this challenge against an undercount.
The odds are not in Detroit’s favor, however. The census bureau rarely reverses such decisions, even in the face of strong evidence that the bureau screwed up.
We wish Detroiters and other citizens much luck in this endeavor. Even with Trump long gone (with very long odds of ever returning), apparently the damage he wrought is still catching some Black people up.
Maybe Detroit needs to call Kanye for a favor with his old pal.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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