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Being More Than Just A Census Number

By Allison A. Melia

Over the past few months, the city of Detroit has launched a major campaign for Census 2000. They want to get a million people counted. According to Mayor Dennis Archer, it is a "matter of pride."

The city paid for 13,000 lawn signs and 10,000 bumper stickers--among other Census paraphernalia--in an attempt to get citizens to fill out their forms. This doesn't include the government's own campaign of cheesy commercials involving a shrunken man on a monopoly board who threatens that people who don't fill out their Census "get nothing." (As if you don't already feel bad enough about forgetting to turn in your forms last month!)

Furthermore, the city government is recruiting volunteers to get information on neighbors who might be reluctant to fill out their forms. Citizens of Detroit beware: Big Brother is watching you.

While every uncounted person means a loss of $3,000 in federal aid to the city, the number one million is not significant. According to census council member and independent demography consultant Peggy Backer, "If the population is six digits or seven, it doesn't change anything."

During the 1990 census, a million was a meaningful number. Due to a Michigan state law which has since been revoked, Detroit stood to lose state funding if its population dropped below a million. Since then, a million has become meaningless symbol of greatness akin to being the home of the world's tallest thermometer (that proud distinction belongs to Baker, Ca.).

While Archer affirms that "great American cities that have less than a million people" do exist, he doesn't want his to be one of them. But why? Perhaps he is longing for his beloved city to return to the bygone days when it was America's industrial center, the heart of the auto industry.

Still, a million people is a pathetic and arbitrary goal to strive for. If he's looking for a challenge, Archer should concern himself with having the best public education system, the lowest unemployment rate or the strictest environmental codes. While it is certainly an admirable undertaking to try and get every citizen counted, the purpose for doing so should be just that--to make sure that every person receives the appropriate federal resources.

Longtime Detroit resident Maggie Jene Resnor told The New York Times that "this is the Motor City, Motown. We've given too much to the world to be known as the city that couldn't keep a million people." This sentiment, that a million people is a benchmark which cities use to compare themselves to others, is completely ridiculous. As if New York would say to Chicago, "Oh, don't talk to Detroit...Didn't you hear? She can't even keep a million!"

Archer is determined not to let that happen, however. He'll be damned if his city is the subject of ridicule. He has promised that he will "ensure that Detroit stands up and is counted."

Census-mania has brought a spirit of philanthropy to Detroit, however. Local McDonalds owners gave unlimited, free meals to almost 10,000 homeless citizens for filling out their censuses and receiving a yellow button reading, "I'm important. I've been counted."

It is a shame that simply helping the homeless isn't enough of a motivation for such good deeds. The homeless should be counted so that Detroit is allotted the resources to be able to feed them. Making sure they are counted is certainly a worthy endeavor--however, it is a worthy endeavor in and of itself, out of the context of simply trying to break a million. They and their issues are important regardless of Detroit's final population count.

Get a clue, Detroit. A million would be nice, but there are other, more important reasons to "stand up and be counted."

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