By LINDSAY MYERS — Hyattsville’s Complete Count Committee (CCC) for the 2020 census met for the first time on Nov. 20. The committee, which currently has eight members, talked strategy and elected its co-chairmen and secretary.
The committee was established by city council this past March in order to increase participation in the 2020 census. According to the Census 2020 Hard to Count mapping site, Hyattsville is at risk of a significant undercount. In 2010, about 35% of households in Wards 3, 4 and 5 did not return their census questionnaires. Among municipalities in Maryland, Hyattsville ranked 114 out of 157 for highest response rates, a drop from 57th place in 2000.
Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said the city is taking a more proactive approach this census.
“In 2010 it was mostly council members on the [census] committee and leaders of area non-profits. There really weren’t people from different parts of the city, actually living in different parts of the city … so [this time] we thought we would really put our energy into the critical outreach that is necessary, the hand-to-hand type of stuff.”
It’s estimated that nearly 20,000 residents of Prince George’s County may have been missed in the 2010 census. Prince George’s County Public Information Officer Anthony McAuliffe said that that equates to $36 million dollars of federal funding that have been lost every year since that count, which has severely reduced the number and quality of services the county can provide to its residents.
Immigrants, seniors, residents with young children, and low-income residents are all historically difficult to count. While fear of legal retribution keeps some immigrant populations from being counted in the census, awareness and accessibility are the main hurdles to participation.
City Clerk Laura Reams, who led the CCC’s meeting in the absence of an elected chair, said the city wants to emphasize three things about the 2020 census: “Taking the census is easy, it’s important, and it’s safe.”
In addition to advertising through social media and partnering with WHUR radio station to advertise the census during morning and evening commuting hours, the county’s committee is partnering with local health clinics and even barbershops to reach hard-to-count residents. Once the census begins in March 2020, the county will hold several events, including Senior Census Bingo and a Census Sunday/Sabbath, where census volunteers will be available to answer questions about the census — how the information will be used, whether the data is private, etc. — and help residents fill out forms.
McAuliffe said the county is making a special effort to solve the accessibility problem of previous years.
“Rather than just telling people to complete the Census, we are bringing the Census to them and also incorporating it into community events,” wrote McAuliffe in an email.
At Hyattsville’s inaugural CCC meeting, members discussed similar approaches to engaging Hyattsville residents. Reams provided the committee with a list of 2020 city events during which the CCC could advertise the census, and committee members signed up for smaller subcommittees, some of which will target hard-to-count populations.
The eight existing committee members bring a wide range of skill sets and connections to the table. Through her work on the Hyattsville Elementary School’s annual Zombie Run, Christine Blackerby has connections to several local businesses and area nonprofits. Steven Blanco, who has coached football and wrestling at Northwestern High School, said he can use his relationship with the school to mobilize area youth. Matthew Fraterman, a co-chair alongside Jennifer Linn, is an active member of the First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville and offered to collaborate with the various local faith communities.
Much to the relief of the rest of the committee, Fraterman also said he would be happy to log some hours knocking on doors. “Getting on the ground, going door-to-door, I don’t mind doing that,” he said. “I love doing that. I love cold-talking to people.”
In addition to door knocking, Hollingsworth encouraged the committee to think about the ways in which it can reach people on an individual level to increase response rates. Some hard-to-count populations require “several touches” to ensure participation, she said.
“My competitive nature is sneaking up on us,” said Hollingsworth, in reference to Hyattsville’s poor 2010 response rate. “I definitely want us to be better than we were in 2010, but selfishly, I also want us to be higher than all the municipalities around us,” she said lightheartedly.
The Hyattsville CCC currently has seven vacancies. The committee is particularly interested in new members who are connected to local hard-to-count populations, such as the immigrant communities in Wards 4 and 5 and the elderly. Spanish-speaking residents of Wards 4 and 5 are especially welcome.
For more information about how to apply for membership on the committee or how to volunteer at census events email firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome!