By Carol Stiffler

Luce County’s 2020 census figure – which showed a staggering 19.5% drop in population over the past 10 years – is likely to change. And it looks like it’s going to be a much smaller drop than originally reported.

Research into the population change, which was the largest reported drop in the state of Michigan, shows the drop wasn’t a matter of having residents leave the county or fail to complete the survey. Instead, The Newberry News has discovered that zero prisoners at the Newberry Correctional Facility were counted as residents within the county’s Pentland Township. That is an error, and is unlike the 2010 census, when the prison was fully represented in the local census survey.

As a result of the error, Pentland Township’s 2020 population reflected a drop of 1,110 people – a drop that did not occur. The Newberry Correctional Facility was housing 1,084 inmates on April 1, 2020, which was census day. Adding that total to the reported 2020 Pentland Township figure of 1,564 brings the true figure to 2,648, and means the actual drop in Pentland’s population was only 26. That drop could still be artificially high if it turns out other group populations – like nursing homes and juvenile facilities – were also excluded in error.

If no other groups are missing, that means Pentland Township lost only 1% of its population. Using the corrected figure for Pentland Township reveals Luce County’s population actually increased to 6,423, a decrease of 3.1%.

That puts Luce County in the middle of the pack for population change in the U.P., with seven counties experiencing greater loss in the last 10 years.

Pentland Township Supervisor Greg Rathje has disputed the new, low census figure since it was first reported in August. Though he didn’t have a matching census-like survey, he could see that voter registration and voter turnout was stable over the past 10 years, if not slightly higher.

Counting inmates as local residents has become a controversial topic, and it is likely to change in the future. Legislation is already in the works to count inmates according to their home addresses.

However, according to current law, an inmate is counted as a resident of the county in which he or she is incarcerated. In 2010, Luce County’s census total included a near-maximum number of inmates at the Newberry Correctional Facility. The maximum is 1,104.

It is still unknown why the Luce County census figure does not include the prison population. The error could have occurred at the local, state, or national level. It is also not clear why such a dramatic drop of 44% in one township didn’t trigger a need for review before census numbers were certified.

In any case, the U.S. Census Bureau stands by the quality of their census work. The bureau does have a system for correcting errors, using a program called the Count Question Resolution (CQR) operation.

Elected officials can begin submitting CQR cases to the census bureau in January 2022. If a change is needed, the bureau will also release an errata – or error in printing – notice.

“We will absolutely be using this program, among other tools,” said Greg Rathje, Pentland Township Supervisor.

Rathje is also planning to reach out to elected officials at the state level for assistance.

“I’m certain it will be corrected, because it’s common sense,” Rathje said. “Do I have to take a video and post it on YouTube in front of the prison?”