The Michigan Nonprofit Association awarded $1.2 million in grants to New Michigan Media to get the word out about the census through 140 ethnic media outlets.  

Director of NMM and Associate Professor of Communication Hayg Oshagan said, “No other state programs are using ethnic media to be leaders to get the word out.” 

Oshagan, who is also a part of the Michigan 2020 U.S. Census Complete Count Committee, said the combined efforts will go toward billboards, canvassing, reporting, informational workshops and messaging — which will vary in communities. 

Oshagan said, “there are different groups in concert,” who are working together on federal, state and grassroots levels to mobilize communities through 13 community foundations. 

In some communities, elders or religious leaders are trusted voices — but usually the ethic media is the first trusted voice.

Oshagan said the ethnic media has established themselves as providing truthful information in the community. He said even in communities where elders are respected, there is still a way to utilize the ethnic press — whether it be an editorial or a video.

Oshagan said $30 billion is at stake for Michigan, along with a congressional seat and possible redistricting. The census trickles down to funding for everything from Medicaid, Medicare to funding for school lunches, headstart programs, highways and Title I funding.

Saeed Khan, professor of history, near East & Asian studies, said people may fear census takers due to government mistrust. 

“Some may erroneously perceive the census as an intrusion to their privacy, especially in the current climate of suspicion around the treatment of undocumented immigrants,” he said. 

Language can be a barrier for minority communities, Khan said.

“There is a need for the Census Bureau and community leaders to convey to their respective communities that the census is mandatory, safe and beneficial to their interests,” Khan said. “They can also convey that the census forms will be available in a variety of non-English languages.”

“For minority communities, an accurate census count empowers them by making them visible to politicians and policy makers as to how resources can be best channeled toward their respective communities, in the area of education, health care, transportation and even employment opportunities.”

The City of Detroit, which houses large populations of Spanish, Bengali and Arabic language speakers according to the Detroit census website. has translated resources on their website. 

Detroit has a lot at stake, Oshagan said. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, the count for the census provides basis for distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to support state and county programs. 

Oshagan said Detroit loses an estimated $5,500 per person per year, over a 10-year period compared to statewide figures of $1,800 per person. The census expects a 3% underreporting in Detroit, approximately a $1 billion loss, he said.

WSU is partnering with elected leaders to get students and faculty to participate. 

Student Senate President Stuart Baum said Associate Vice President of marketing and communications, Carolyn Berry, will spearhead campus efforts. Meetings began this summer with stakeholders and community leaders.

Baum said WSU is looking for student volunteers and ambassadors. 

“We are getting students and people in neighborhoods that are like the people in those neighborhoods to canvas and get the message out. Lifelong residents and students are impacted alike,” he said. 

Paid positions are listed on the City of Detroit website for $15 to $19 an hour.

Changes this year include postcards with an online questionnaire that will be sent to homes in the initial phase. Baum said WSU plans to have an external terminal for residents who may not have internet access. The location has yet to be confirmed.

Baum encourages students who live on campus to get counted in Detroit as opposed to their permanent mailing address on Apr. 1. 

One roommate can fill out the questionnaire, as the census is counted per household. It impacts funding for grants scholarships and Detroit’s narrative nationally, Baum said. 

“We want to show people that Detroit is not this lost city,” Baum said. People have stayed, and the population is growing steadily, he said.

More information will be coming out next semester about student opportunities. Census postcards are expected to go out mid-March, Baum said.

Cover photo by Susana Hernandez