By Levina Kim, United Way of the National Capital Area, Ria Pugeda, Consumer Health Foundation, and Terri Wright, Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
In Spring 2018, the three of us agreed to join together to co-chair the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ then-new Census 2020 Working Group. Our goal was, and continues to be, to convene, educate, and mobilize our fellow funders to leverage our collective resources in support of a fair and accurate Census 2020.
The reasons why Census 2020 is an urgent philanthropic priority have been said before, but bear repeating: the Census is the cornerstone of our democracy. Census data determine where government allocates our tax dollars for new schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, and other critical infrastructure. Census data determine federal resources for maternal and child health, Head Start, supplemental food programs, subsidized housing, and other human services (more than $24 billion to DC, Maryland, and Virginia combined!) Companies use census data when considering where to pursue business opportunities. Census data is also used to determine the number of congressional seats that will prevail for the next 10 years.
Most importantly, a complete and accurate Census 2020 is critical for advancing racial equity in our region. The census count has historically missed disproportionate numbers of people of color, immigrants, young children, low-income, and rural households. It is estimated that more than 55,000 individuals were “undercounted” in this region in 2010. When communities of color are undercounted in the census they are impacted in multiple ways. It could lead to under-representation in government and thus a lack of focus on and investment in their priorities and concerns. Federal funding for social service programs could be drastically reduced. Businesses that are urgently needed – like grocery stores – may fail to open in under-resourced neighborhoods because the data does not reflect the potential for sufficient demand.
The current political environment, a reduction of federal resources for outreach workers (“enumerators” in census-speak), and the sweeping move to an online census have exacerbated the likelihood of our region’s most marginalized communities being grossly under-counted. It is essential for the nonprofit, philanthropic, business, and government sectors to step up and optimize our inherent potential to reach and support communities that are at the most risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census.
Our call to action: The viability of an equitable future depends on a complete and accurate Census 2020. Philanthropy can and must invest in our nonprofit partners, which have the relationships and connections with different communities, to support the outreach, education, and assistance that under-counted communities – especially communities of color – would need. We call on our philanthropic colleagues to join us in investing directly or with other foundations and donors through a pooled fund housed at the Greater Washington Community Foundation dedicated to Census 2020. We know that through our collective effort we can achieve a complete and accurate count and make a substantial impact on what happens to our region over the next 10 years.
Funders: To learn more about the pooled funding opportunity, please contact Terri Wright, Vice President of Program & Community at the Meyer Foundation, or Ria Pugeda, Senior Program Officer, Consumer Health Foundation.
WRAG members are encouraged to join the Census 2020 Working Group to support a fair and accurate census. The next meeting is June 17. Contact Rebekah Seder to learn more.