Preliminary 2020 Census results came out recently and they list Chester City losing 4.02% of its population, or 1,367 people, since the last census in 2010. Is this data good or not? 

Black folks don’t like being counted. In fact, it was hard to even get black folks to work for the Census bureau when they were desperate to hire folks to do the counting here in Chester even though they were paying close to $20/hr. 

Chester is considered by the Census folks a ‘Hard to Reach Community.’ Local organizations around Chester did what they could to get the word out to encourage participation, but, as usual, participation was extremely low in Chester. Some Chester neighborhoods were clocking in at a 34% participation rate. 

I recall Chester Councilwoman Elizabeth Williams making a passionate plea to how serious this census is to Chester and the impact it has to our ability to help fund schools, public works projects, etc. Others indicate that each person counted equates to $2000 to the state. Yet, black folks go uncounted in huge numbers in communities like Chester. Even Sharon Hill, who has a large black population, experienced a 21.87% population loss (1,683 people) based on the 2020 census. What’s the problem here? 

It was only a matter of time before the Washington Post put out an article titled, ‘Census likely undercounted Black residents, analyses find.’ They say…

Two new analyses suggest the 2020 Census may have undercounted Black people at a significantly higher rate than usual, raising concerns about whether underserved communities could lose out on fair representation and funding over the next 10 years.

They go on to say, sort of in the same vein as Councilwoman Williams…

If the analyses are borne out, the higher undercounts could have profound implications for a wide array of federally funded services, including Medicaid and Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), highway planning and construction, Section 8 housing vouchers, Head Start, and other programs.

The article mentions the highest undercounts are among communities of color, renters, low-income earners, and children; much of what you’ll find in cities like Chester. 

State Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D., Mich.) says,

“It was a perfect storm for an undercount on multiple levels. Many people in poor neighborhoods and communities of color are already reluctant to respond to questions about their household members.”

Black folks have a large mistrust of how personal data will be used against them and would rather not share anything with the government who probably already have more information on you than can be imagined from your smartphone use and social media activity. 

I mentioned earlier that the 2020 census numbers are preliminary because they’ll use the early data and pass it through some formula to try to compensate and correct for the undercount they know occurs in hard to reach communities. 

The full extent of the survey’s undercounts and overcounts will become clearer next year when the bureau releases what is known as its modified race file, a tally that reassigns people who marked “some other race” alone into Black and non-Black categories.

I don’t believe these fancy compensation formulas apply in a place like Chester who don’t have a large population of “some other race” people. Here in Chester, folks checked the ‘Black’ box because you won’t find ‘half black’, ‘mixed black’, ‘sorta-black’, or Black-ish people living here. We’re either Black or not. 

Members of a community should benefit from an accurate census count so local officials know what services should be provided and to whom. Because of this, I support local government doing their own on-going census and not relying solely on a national census every ten years. 

Small cities like Chester should be able to assemble a much more accurate count of its residents on a block-by-block basis and combine that data with voting records, tax records, and local school district data, to know who lives in the city, what government services they require, and what value each individual who lives here has to the community. A local census conducted by local government is the best method to serve the local community. It can also serve as a check to federal census data which is obviously a calculated guess at best. 

In order for a community to be strong, the people who live in that community have to stand up and be counted. Whether you’re someone who can contribute to the good of the community or someone in need of services from the community, until you come forth and be identified, do you really count?