Baltimore City lags behind the rest of the state and nation in responding to the census, despite continuing pleas by elected officials concerned that an undercount would cost the city millions of dollars in federal aid.
Participation rates in the surrounding counties of Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel are substantially higher than the city’s — and all three eclipse the national level, according to online figures compiled by the Census Bureau as of Wednesday night.
The census is conducted every 10 years to measure the nation’s population. The data is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars nationally — including hundreds of millions to Baltimore City — for health, housing, education and other programs.
"The census directly affects federal funding for things like this public health emergency we find ourselves in now,” Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Wednesday, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
Baltimore City’s self-response rate is 31.8%, compared to 40.2% for the state and 38.4% nationally, according to the bureau’s online database. The gap is more pronounced for people completing their forms online — 24.2% for Baltimore, 37.5% for the state, and 33.8% for the nation.
The bureau says to count everyone “where they ordinarily would be living" Wednesday, even if they are not there now because of the coronavirus or other reasons.
Although Wednesday is called “Census Day," it is not a deadline for completing forms. Rather, the bureau simply encourages people “to respond as soon as you can.” By law, it has until the end of the year to deliver counts to the president and Congress.
Howard and Carroll counties have so far recorded the highest response rate of Baltimore-area counties — 48.2% for Howard and 47.8% for Carroll. Baltimore County’s rate was 41.4%, Anne Arundel’s was 43.6% and Harford’s was 45.2%.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman recently posted a picture of himself on Twitter filling out his online form alongside his dog.
The coronavirus pandemic has delayed door-to-door counts of people who don’t respond on their own. It has also hampered the bureau’s ability to count homeless people and those living in groups such residents of nursing homes.
“We’re in a challenging time,” said state Del. Stephanie Smith, a Baltimore Democrat who joined Young on Wednesday in encouraging broad participation. “But it’s still an opportunity for us to count every neighbor that we have so that we can get our fair share of federal dollars that make sure we can feed the most vulnerable at a time like this, that make sure our seniors get the support they need at a time like this.”
The census also is used to redraw congressional districts to reflect population shifts and to determine how many members states get in the U.S. House of Representatives
Given the coronavirus-related delays, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, and other members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have asked the bureau to respond to written questions about its plans “to prevent any disruption” to the census and to participate in a video briefing within the next week.
The bureau said recently that Baltimore’s population has dipped below 600,000 for the first time in more than a century. That count was based on estimates, not on the 2020 count.
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Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article