Sep 21, 2022 - News

Detroit sues Census Bureau over population estimates "divorced from reality"

 Illustration of people's silhouettes made from US Census questions.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Detroit sued the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday, alleging the agency's population estimates are undercounting the city.

Why it matters: Census figures determine allocation of federal funding and inform research.

  • Plus, Mayor Mike Duggan said early in his tenure that Detroiters should stake his success solely on whether he's able to attract more residents to a city with a long population decline.

Driving the news: Duggan's team argues Detroit's population gained tens of thousands of people between 2020 and 2021. The city cites undercount estimates, increases in home utility connections, new housing development, records from the U.S. Postal Service and others, per the lawsuit.

  • Duggan called the bureau's data — which shows the city lost 7,150 residents from 2020 to 2021 — "divorced from reality" in a news conference yesterday.

What's more: The suit alleges the bureau is refusing to correct an undercount of Black and Hispanic residents that it admitted on a national level led to a "racially biased" undercount.

  • Plus, the suit says, the bureau is not allowing Detroit to challenge the 2021 estimate, a violation of the Census' own policies.

The other side: The Census Bureau doesn't comment on pending litigation, it told us in a statement.

Between the lines: The city has a long track record of disputing Census counts, Axios' Nathan Bomey, author of "Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back," tells us.

  • As the city's population was contracting over the second half of the 20th century from 1.8 million in the 1950s, officials regularly protested the feds' population count for understating the figure.

Context: This lawsuit is separate from Duggan's ongoing efforts to challenge the 2020 Census, which found the city's population declined 10.5% since 2010. City leaders allege at least a 10% undercount.

  • However, the two issues are related — the 2021 estimate is based on the population count that takes place every decade.

What we're watching: Detroit's lawyers want a judge to force the bureau to accept its challenge to the estimate, plus share how it makes its calculations in order to show who's right.


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