The Census in District 7: Fighting the Undercount
In parts of District 7, undercount rose as high as 20% in the 2010 census. Changing that takes all parties.
Much like elections, the change enacted from census data is mostly felt at the local level — just ask Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez about its importance to Philadelphia City Council.
“We do everything with the census count,” she said.
From planning responses to poverty levels, to housing and healthcare allocations, the census — if accurate — provides an invaluable resource to local public officials and stakeholders when considering the needs of their communities.
Unfortunately, similar to issues of low voter turnout, census participation also struggles. This is especially true in districts like the one Quiñones-Sánchez represents.
District 7 is home to some of the most vibrant immigrant communities in Philadelphia, but many residents also confront a myriad of issues related to poverty and drug addiction. The combination of marginalization and trauma makes her constituents some of the biggest potential beneficiaries of accurate census data, but the least likely to provide it because of distrust.
In 2010, parts of the district had undercounts as high as 20% according to Quiñones-Sánchez.
This dynamic means her and other community stakeholders have their hands full in the remaining months of 2019 when it comes to ensuring an accurate census count.
The distrust in the community is multifaceted — but so are the solutions.
One answer is education. Both the councilwoman and Julia Rivera, the director of external affairs for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, stressed the need to educate residents about the census. Not only should they know its purpose, but also what is legal and illegal about the process — especially considering the national rhetoric around the citizenship question.
“The more education, the better. Chances are participation will be higher,” said Rivera.
The collection of data in District 7 is also much different than other parts of the country. The government is encouraging participants to submit forms online in 2020.
However, according to a CUNY project that detailed low census turnout areas across the country in 2010, certain areas of the district had upwards of 61% without internet access. Compile that with the transient nature of some residents due to poverty, addiction and homelessness, and census work in the area becomes more involved.
“The work is door-to-door,” said Quiñones-Sánchez.
To make sure those engaging residents are also trusted, the councilwoman’s office is hosting pop-up office hours on Tuesdays throughout the summer.
They are designed to bring her office’s services to the community, but some are for recruiting a census workforce. By holding the pop-ups at sites in the community, the hope is that the workforce collecting data is also familiar to the residents.
Quiñones-Sánchez also discussed working census advertising into as many city programs in her district as possible.
For Rivera, the biggest issue to address is the language barrier. In District 7, a bilingual approach is necessary.
“We do serve a predominantly Latino community, so having materials in English and Spanish and folks out administering the census that are bilingual is critical,” she said.
Rivera said Congreso is providing bilingual materials where necessary.
See below for dates and locations of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez's pop-up office hours.