Amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic, multiple Prince George’s County elected officials are worried about the impact the resulting disruptions are having on local efforts to boost Census response rates in their communities.
April 1 is Census Day. Officially, the U.S. Census measures the population of the U.S. every 10 years on April 1. The counts are made by residents filing self-responses by mail or internet, as well as by canvassers who gather data in person. The resulting numbers are used, primarily, to apportion elected representatives at all levels of government across the country. But the count is also the foundational statistical database used in U.S. policymaking, with Census counts informing everything from allocation of social welfare programs to infrastructure development decisions and more.
Editor’s note: Complete the Census online at the following link: https://2020census.gov/en.html
Officials at just about every stage of local government have been trying to raise awareness of the Census for months. Prince George’s County Councilor Deni Taveras said at least 40 Census-promoting events in Prince George’s County have canceled over the next several weeks.
“I’m afraid it’s drowning out the message to get your Census done,” said Taveras.
Taveras’ district includes Adelphi, Langley Park, Mount Rainier and Hyattsville, and is the most-heavily Hispanic area of the county. All have been designated hard-to-count communities whose self-response rates lagged the national average during the last Census.
As of March 31, 2020, only 36 percent of Marylanders had completed the Census, lagging the national rate of 38 percent. Prince George’s County lags further behind, with only 34 percent of county residents estimated to have completed the Census.
Neighborhoods in and around University Park have some of the highest response rates in the county, clocking it at more than 51 percent as of this writing. The Census tract immediately to the north, covering parts of Old Town College Park and the University of Maryland, have the lowest Census response rates so far, with less than 10 percent of residents estimated to have completed the Census.
Broadly speaking, areas outside the Beltway in Prince George’s County have better response rates.
“We will need to be more creative about how we reach our hard to count populations to encourage completion of the census to ensure that everyone is counted,” said Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth.
Lacking in-person events to promote the Census, local governments across Prince George’s County have tried to take the message to social media and snail mail. Officials from Upper Marlboro to Edmonston told Route 1 Reporter they are hoping this combination of digital and physical media will maximize response rates. Officials in Brentwood said they plan to launch a yard-sign campaign to boost Census awareness.
“Post cards were mailed to every resident in Edmonston, fliers were handed out door-to-door prior to the virus restrictions and we continue to remind residents to report,” said Rodney Barnes, Edmonston’s town manager.
“Time will tell how successful our efforts will be,” said Ray Feldman, Upper Marlboro’s communications director.
Editor’s note:Route 1 Reporter is – normally – a subscriber-supported local news website. Due to the state of emergency, articles about the coronavirus pandemic will be available for free. If you like the reporting, please support Route 1 Reporter on Patreon.
Correction: This article was updated from an earlier version which incorrectly said April 1 was an online deadline to fill out the Census.