Participating in area protests, discussion on this year’s presidential election and the coronavirus pandemic, Shanzah Khan of Bladensburg admits those topics overshadowed the 2020 Census.
But the 24-year-old Howard University law school student began filling out a census form online while talking with a reporter Saturday, Aug. 22.
“It’s been on my mind for a while to get counted,” she said. “I understand that it’s important…That’s how [federal officials] re-allocate funds and other resources they give to communities.”
Khan began to complete her form before the Sept. 30 deadline, the new date by which the nation is to have counted the U.S. population. The Commerce Department action moves the deadline up from the previous Oct. 31 deadline.
As of Thursday, Aug. 20, the national response rate stood at 64.2 percent.
That same day Virginia ranked eighth in the nation with a response rate of 68.8% with Maryland right behind at 68.6 percent.
In terms of internet response, Maryland ranks third in the nation at 58.7 percent behind Minnesota and the state of Washington. Maryland could receive about $16 billion of the $800 billion in federal dollars from the count held every 10 years. The money is to be used for schools, roads and housing, as well as setting the size of the state’s representation in Congress.
In Khan’s jurisdiction of Prince George’s County, a Census Bureau official estimated the response rate of 66.5 percent “impressive.”
Julius Maina, a census coordinator for Maryland, said the county could exceed its 2010 mark of 68.6 percent.
The goal for this year would to be reach percent.
“We tell people the best metric is how well is that county doing in proportion to the national average and how well in proportion to the 2010 response rates,” Maina said. “Prince George’s County is doing really good.”
For those who didn’t fill out forms online, the first time ever conducted by the Census Bureau, residents can complete forms at food distribution events. Churches and other faith-based organizations helped distribute literature throughout the community.
According to the bureau, University Park in Prince George’s leads compliance in Maryland with the highest response rate at 90 percent.
However, the Langley Park area also in the northern part of the county remains one of the hardest count areas in the state.
Maina said the bureau partnered with the state to create a statewide outreach coalition to help reach low income and immigrant communities such as Langley Park.
He said the number of enumerators, or census workers, knocking on doors to count people, changes based on the data and are sent to low-count areas. But he praised churches, local community leaders and officials who hand out fliers, distribute information and organize virtual meetings to spread the word about the census. The county recently held a virtual census job fair for residents.
“Our team is good, but the boots on the ground and the trusted voices in the community have been better than expected,” he said. “You meet people where they are.”
Although similar outreach efforts are done in the District, the Census Bureau statistics shows the District ranks 35th in the nation with a response rate around 60 percent.
Some Black residents have expressed a lack of trust in completing the census, Sabreena Geddie said she has been told
“When people doubt the benefits, all we can do is highlight them,” said Geddie, a media and partnership specialist for the Census Bureau in the D.C. region. “It can be difficult at times, but it’s our mission and we understand the importance of having a complete and accurate count.”
More specifically in the District’s neighborhoods, the Ward 8 response rate stands at 47 percent. A figure Philip Pannell called “abysmal.”
In comparison, Pannell said neighboring Ward 7’s response rate hovers near 54 percent while the predominantly white Ward 3 in the Northwest quadrant of the city comes in at 75%.
Pannell, who serves as executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), leads an effort to educate those residents about the census. The District tasked his organization to help improve the 2010 response rate of 60 percent.
“People have received the mailing from the census, but they haven’t turned it in,” he said. “I think the coronavirus pandemic has been a factor. People have distracted by other things going on with the pandemic and the census message has almost been totally forgotten.”
Because the Trump administration set a new census deadline and hampered outreach efforts, the ACC scheduled an emergency meeting with D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) to address the problem
“We have to see what we can do to get people counted,” Pannell said.
WI iStaff Writer James Wright contributed to this story.