Only a limited amount of time remains before the closing of census reports across the nation, but the East of the river community falls short at significantly lower completion rates than its neighboring wards across the District.
To date, just under 49% of Ward 8, and slightly tipping above 50% margins of Ward 7 are currently recorded in this year’s census. East of the River residents are traditionally undercounted, with the COVID-19 pandemic further adding to a pot of variables in the cause.
“In the beginning of COVID when people were being asked to respond by census day, many people were reluctant to come out of their homes, and also mailboxes weren’t close by,” said Phillip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC).
The D.C. Office of Planning, which spearheads census efforts District-wide, provides historic response rates and data from the U.S. Census suggesting that Wards 7 and 8 would pose a more difficult mission in obtaining responses than surrounding areas of the city, despite the unforeseen health pandemic.
Informal, or temporary, living arrangements serve as a leading variable discounting census records, as people in temporary households may not submit, in addition to homeowners withholding members of the household. Research has additionally illuminated the high level of distrust in the government process.
“We do find nationally, low-income households, African American households, and immigrant households tend to have lower response rates,” said Melissa Bird, executive director of DC Census 2020. “Then when you add in COVID, it is a pandemic and is something we have to respond to every day. People are concerned about their health, their meal distribution sites, their jobs.
“So, the census has taken a little bit of a back seat to really pressing day-to-day issues across the country. So that has also been an additional challenge for us.”
Local organizations such as the ACC are diligently working to reach unresponsive residents while considering variables prohibiting constituents from submitting requested responses to the U.S. Census.
The ACC serves as one of the D.C. Office of Planning’s community partners, as they have collectively awarded more than $800,000 in grant funding to D.C. based organizations conducting outreach, and touching base with community residents.
Set to campaign until the last day of census counts District-wide, head ACC Outreach Director Stuart Anderson details the canvassing efforts made by the local organization to accrue greater response rates among residents, in addition to high illiteracy percentages in the community.
“There are three things that are pivotal to the response level East of the Anacostia River specifically in Ward 8, and the number one being the level of distrust in the government,” Anderson said. “Number two is us having a high population of functioning illiterates. They can interpret and read words, but the comprehension is off. Therefore, they cannot respond to the standard questions without some help.”
Anderson and fellow colleagues of the ACC are actively facilitating neighborhood sit-ins to connect with residents and assist those who have not yet completed the census.
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, has excitedly opened her office doors to the ACC census count initiative, partnering with the organization in efforts not only to retrieve resident responses but provide free COVID-19 testing administered by Georgetown University nursing staff members.
Outside tables generated a steady pace of residents Sept. 8, including 40-year-old Eugene Johnson who walked by and observed.
“I have not taken the census. I don’t really think anything of it,” said Johnson, who added that he would answer the questions while in attendance of the census count. Johnson was additionally tested for the COVID-19 virus.
The three-hour initiative will return on Tuesday, Sept. 15 to the Informer office, located in southeast D.C.
As of last week, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to halt plans to halt census count operations at the end of September. A pending court hearing on Sept. 17 is slated to mandate final say on a hard deadline for census reporting nationwide.