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Civil rights leader applauds Milwaukee's challenge of Census Bureau's 2020 city population count

2020 census maps from a City of Milwaukee presentation.
City of Milwaukee
2020 census maps from a City of Milwaukee presentation.

Local civil rights leader Fred Royal says he's glad Milwaukee is challenging the U.S. Census Bureau's 2020 population count for the city.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson filed the challenge Tuesday, saying the federal agency's figure of about 577,000 for Milwaukee is about a 16,000 person undercount.

The city says most of those not counted are people of color.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson signing the official challenge to the 2020 count.
Chuck Quirmbach
Mayor Cavalier Johnson signing the official challenge to the 2020 count.

Royal of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP says an undercount would mean the city has been losing out on some federal aid, which is based on population.

"There are many social programs that those dollars support, whether it's weatherization, whether it's the meal programs for students at MPS — for which 90% of our students qualify, or whether it's additional low income housing subsidies. So, I mean, these are critical dollars for our community. It's not just the amount of underrepresentation, it's the amount of allocations that are critically needed," he tells WUWM.

Royal says if Milwaukee's challenge is successful, it may help lead to a needed overhaul of the once-a-decade census counts.

"At least it would help draw a light to the errors that are in the current system or maybe initiate a conversation on how to get a more accurate count," he says.

Mayor Johnson contends the biggest error is the Census Bureau missing more than 2,300 housing units in the city. "Now, we've been working for years in the city of Milwaukee to make sure we get vacant properties off the city's rolls and into the hands of property owners who are going to add stability to neighborhoods. We've been diligent in that for years. So, that was troubling to me, and that's part of the reason we're here today, because of the error that we believe the Census Bureau made, as it relates to vacant properties in the city," he said at a Tuesday news conference.

The Census Bureau declined comment. If the city wins its appeal, it would roughly bring Milwaukee's official population back to 2010 levels.

But it could be a while before the city gets a ruling, There are dozens of other communities across the U.S. that have appealed their 2020 figures as well.

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