5 takeaways from Baltimore’s plan for the 2020 census

In preparation for the 2020 census, the Baltimore mayor’s office has developed an outreach plan that includes a digital campaign, community events and partnerships with the police department, the school system and the city's immigration office. Some of the paperwork used in the past by census takers is shown in this file photo.

In preparation for the 2020 census, the Baltimore mayor’s office has released an outreach plan that includes a digital campaign, community events and partnerships with the police department, the school system and the city’s immigration office

After having one of the lowest participation rates in the state in 2010, Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s goal is “to make sure everyone in our city is counted” — or at least to bump up the city’s participation rate to 73%. That would be a 5% increase from 2010.


“The recent data hacks, the current political environment, the addition of the citizenship question, the hostility present toward immigrants, the fact that the census will take place in the middle of presidential campaigns and the general distrust in the government pose huge challenges for a complete and accurate count in 2020,” according to the Baltimore City Census 2020 Action Plan released Monday.

Baltimore Census Plan

For every person who fails to be counted, the city could lose $1,800 worth of federal funding a year for 132 programs such as Head Start, Medicaid, food stamps, housing and transportation services. So, no pressure.


Here are the major points you need to know from the 32-page report.

Digitize the digits

For the first time ever, the census will be available on computers, tablets and smartphones.

Scaling back door-to-door efforts for collecting the data, the 2020 census will offer three ways to self-report: online, by phone or by mail.

Also, social media will play a large role in outreach, as will mapping technologies to better collect data, according to Austin C. Davis, the city’s 2020 census project director.

Building trust

Even with a hotly contested citizenship question not being included in the census, disaffection with and distrust of the government will be a challenge to a complete and accurate count.

Building trust with what the plan calls “hard-to-count populations,” such as young, African American men; LGBTQ youth, and the homeless, is a priority.


Neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of such populations can expect to see campaigning in libraries, community centers, salons, barber shops and laundromats.

The city will also employ people who regularly interact with people in those groups to spread the word about the census. Such "trusted messengers” can include community organizers, teachers and healthcare providers, Davis said.

The action plan calls for partnerships with the homeless outreach teams of the Baltimore Police Department and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to connect with people living in homeless camps.

Finding immigrants

As of 2017, 8% of the city’s population was foreign-born, nearly half in Latin American countries, according to the plan.

Although immigrants are considered one of Baltimore’s hard-to-count populations, a separate subcommittee will focus on immigrant-specific challenges to census participation. They include language barriers, lack of internet access and people’s concerns about the confidentiality of data about them.


Partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs, the action plan calls for hiring multilingual ambassadors and working with the city school system and its office of English for Speakers of Other Languages to reach immigrant parents.

Block by block

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The Department of Planning is taking a micro-level approach to outreach.

The plan will employ members of the community to raise awareness about the census in their particular neighborhoods.

“I think of the group of people at the end of my block in Barclay [who are] known throughout the neighborhood and occasionally put on cookouts,” Davis said, “being able to provide funding for people like them to continue their same types of events ... with census branding.”

Covering costs


Maryland allocated over $4 million in grants to organizations across the state to increase census participation in 2020.

The city Department of Planning received $250,000 in April for giveaways, media campaigns, transportation to census events, translators and interpreters, Davis said. A significant portion of the grant will also be used to provide resources for trusted messengers, he said.