Detroit Census Campaign: Using VITA sites to increase Census Participation

By Jordan Blakemore, 2020 Get It Back Campaign Intern, and Victoria Kovari, Detroit 2020 Census Campaign Executive Director

The City of Detroit, in coordination with over 300 partner organizations, has implemented a robust outreach and communication strategy to inform Detroiters about the census, why it matters, and the impact it has on their lives.

The city has recruited hundreds of local leaders and paid community canvassers in a data-driven field effort focused on hard-to-count census tracts or regions. The campaign will engage local, trusted messengers in a comprehensive digital and traditional media strategy designed to mobilize Detroiters to respond to the Census.

Historically, the Census has disproportionately undercounted people of color, immigrants, young children, and people living in poverty or homelessness. Many of these undercounted populations use VITA services, making VITA sites a great place to combat low census participation rates.

Using VITA to Expand Census Outreach

The Detroit Census Campaign is using VITA sites as key locations to spread awareness of the 2020 census. The census campaign focuses on four key areas: field work, outreach, communication, and technology.

VITA sites across the city are distributing marketing materials and encouraging census participation with the use of kiosks where VITA clients can fill out the census.

The 2020 Census will be the first census to rely heavily on online responses, which risks undercounting those without internet access. Detroit will establish more than 100 locations with Census-form ready computers; including 50 sites with Census only kiosks, many of which are also VITA sites.

The census campaign has put up banners at kiosks sites including those serving VITA clients.  and VITA  volunteers have had training in order to answer questions that VITA clients may have about completing the census.  The Census campaign has also hired 12 community groups who will be canvassing neighborhoods with historically low census completion rates.   Over 110 Census Captains will also visit places where people congregate – such as local businesses, churches, and community centers .  The City campaign has engaged groups of local artists to host creative arts events around the city on April 1, National Census Day.

With a similar clientele and a common goal of creating better financial outcomes for the people of Detroit, the Detroit Census Campaign and Detroit VITA sites make a perfect partnership.

Census Messaging

Effective messaging is vital to the success of the census and the funding the city will receive for many public assistance programs. Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit have both taken to Twitter, to express their commitment to supporting the census and the valuable tax credits that VITA sites help Detroiters claim.

Here are some recent tweets from the Mayor and the City highlighting the benefits of the EITC and the Census:

  • “Last years Earned Income Tax Credit helped Detroiters receive an average of $3,430 in tax refunds. This year we want to make sure that all eligible Detroiters apply for the opportunity to increase their tax return with the EITC. Visit for more info.” – Mayor Mike Duggan @MayorMikeDuggan
  • “Did you know that for the first time ever the Census can be filled out online? #Census2020 is making it easier for you to count yourself. For more info visit #BeCountedDetroit” – City of Detroit @CityofDetroit
  • If you have earned income under $56k, you may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and could receive an extra $500 – $6,000 in a credit from the IRS! Call 2-1-1 to schedule a free tax preparation appointment at the EITC Taxathon or throughout the tax season.” – City of Detroit @CityofDetroitJan

Here are some of the messages the Detroit “Be Counted Campaign” has used to inform people about the Census:

  • “For every Detroiter who does not fill out the census, the City loses $5,000 each year for the next 10 years.”
  • “The Census count determines federal funding for programs like Medicaid, school lunches, Bridge Cards, education grants and more.”
  • “Census information is CONFIDENTIAL. Federal law prohibits sharing personal Census data with anyone.”
  • “The Census form is 10 questions, takes 10 minutes, and determines Detroit’s population for the next 10 years.”

Detroit had the largest drop in census participation in the entire country in 2010. Using both new media strategies and on-the-ground staff, the city hopes to greatly improve Census participation rates for 2020.

For more information about Census jobs, volunteering and other resources in Detroit, go to

 For general census information, news, and job postings see


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