The District Counts in the 2020 Census and Beyond
Updated: May 12, 2021
By: Sarah Marin
Every tenth year ending in zero, the U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be taken. This once-in-a-decade count works to collect statistical data of the lives of more than 331 million Americans to create a clearer picture of where, who, and how we live. While these population counts directly affect how District of Columbia Ward and ANC boundaries are drawn and how the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned, it will also determine how more than $1 trillion in federal spending will be allocated towards states and localities, and thus plays a critical role in health and environmental justice in our communities.
The deadline to complete the Census is soon approaching and is set to close October 31, 2020. With a population of just over 705,000 in 2019, (a 19% jump from the approximately 605,000 counted in the 2010 Census,) federal dollars flowing to the District will continue to rise. According to the DC Policy Center, the District of Columbia has received approximately $6 billion every year following the 2010 census. The funds allocated through the census over the past decade have supported more than 55 programs that directly and indirectly impact every resident of the District including: Medicaid, the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Section 8 and public housing assistance, highway and road construction, community facilities development and critical wildlife, environmental, and public health programs to name just a few.
With so much at stake in the 2020 Census, it is crucial that every District of Columbia resident is counted. The good news is, as of October 12, 2020, D.C.’s enumerated percentage of housing units counted was 99.9%; however, self-reporting counts and count concerns for the city’s homeless population continue to underscore long-standing disparities in representation, environmental justice, and access to services for those who rely on them the most.
DC currently ranks 34th in “self-response rates,” with only 63.5% of households self-reporting. Notably, the census tracts in the northwest areas of the City have self-reporting rates far outpacing the areas to the southeast. For instance, the census tract with the highest self-reporting is Tract 10.03 in NW (Ward 3) with a rate of 90.5% and 84.1% reporting by internet for the first time. This rate is more than 60% higher than the tracts with the lowest self-reporting; at 25.7% self reporting with only 21.8% by internet in Tract 23.02 in NE (Ward 5) and 28.6% self-reporting with 17.9% by internet in Tract 74.01 in SE (Ward 8).
Interestingly, yet unsurprisingly, these low reporting tracts have some of the highest poverty rates in the city. While the average rate of poverty across the District is 13.5%, Tracts 23.02 and 74.01 have 18.3% and 70% of their populations living below the poverty line, respectively. These tracts are also located in some of the most environmentally unjust areas of the city, with Tract 74.01 adjacent to the Navy Yard toxic waste site and Tract 23.02 in close proximity to one of the city’s five trash transfer stations, the Fort Totten Transfer Station.
While just a few small examples, these figures directly highlight bleak patterns in access and equity for DC’s marginalized communities who may have limited access to internet or phone services or lack permanent housing. Community membership includes people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with limited English, and other marginalized groups traditionally undercounted. It is our responsibility to make sure that every D.C. resident is counted to help close these longstanding gaps that make the need for funds apportioned through the Census more important than ever!
UPDATE (as of 10/20): The Trump Administration closed the 2020 Census on 10/15/2020. However, DC EcoWomen felt the content of this blog was still vital and deserved to be shared with the community.
Sarah Marin is an Associate and Client Services Manager at Sustainable Strategies DC and a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she studied International Affairs with concentrations in Environmental Studies and Public Health. Sarah is passionate about developing equitable and sustainable cities that support vibrant communities and a thriving, healthy planet for all.