The 2020 census process failed to count 14,410 Washington, D.C. residents, even though the population increased by nearly 88,000 people.
Data from the 2020 census results counted 689,545 residents in the District, a 14.6% growth compared to the 2010 census. While the District saw the seventh-highest growth rate in the United States, it also saw the largest undercount rate in the nation at 2.05%, which could impact how federal resources are allocated throughout the District during the next decade.
Following the release of the 2020 census results, the D.C. Council began the process of redistricting the eight wards in an effort to balance the populations in each ward, meaning that Wards 6, 7 and 8 will almost certainly have to be redrawn due to drastic population shifts, as Ward 6 is too large, while Wards 7 and 8 are too small.
According to Samuel Rosen-Amy, chief of staff for the office of Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), who is the chair for the Subcommittee on Redistricting, the undercount means that the District might not be accurately funded.
“We are very concerned about the reported undercount of DC residents in the Census, since it can mean the District doesn’t receive its fair share of federal funds,” Rosen-Amy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “That can have a very real effect on our residents.”
Accurate census counts are important in terms of distributing adequate resources across the District, according to a press statement from the D.C. Office of Planning, which oversees the redistricting process along with the D.C. Council.
“The federal government uses Census data to distribute more than $6 billion annually to the District for vital programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section Eight Housing Choice Vouchers, Children’s Health Insurance, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance,” the statement reads. “Accurate and complete census data is critical to the District’s recovery and reopening efforts as well. Knowing who lives in DC and where is important when making budgeting and planning decisions across all District agencies.”
The undercount was likely caused by difficulties regarding accurately counting people during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as former President Donald Trump’s failed attempts to introduce a citizenship question on the census form, which may have deterred people from participating. The difficulties caused Black and Hispanic populations to be undercounted at a rate of over 2%, according to the Urban Institute, an economic and social think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The Subcommittee on Redistricting is continuing with its original redistricting plans despite the undercount and is expected to hold a full D.C. Council vote on the redistricted wards Dec. 7. Under current proposals, the boundaries of Ward 2 could shift to either adopt nearby neighborhoods or lose current neighborhoods. Under two leading proposals the Shaw neighborhood, which is currently in Ward 2, would be either split between Ward 2 and Ward 6 or removed completely from Ward 2.
Ward 2 Councilmember Brook Pinto (LAW ’17) did not respond to The Hoya’s request for comment.
Following the D.C. Council vote on the proposed redrawn ward maps, Ward Task Forces will assemble in December to decide upon the new boundaries for the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC), which are the neighborhoods that make up the wards.
While the D.C. Office of Planning pursues actions to examine the reported undercount, the Subcommittee on Redistricting must move forward, according to Rosen-Amy.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much the Council can do about it right now,” Rosen-Amy wrote. “The Office of Planning, a Mayoral office, is looking into appealing the official count, but that process could take years.”
According to Rosen-Amy, while the undercount is concerning, the D.C. Council will continue the redistricting process with the 2020 census data.
“In the meantime, we are proceeding forward with the data we have now, which we are required by law to use when redistricting,” Rosen-Amy wrote.