2020 Census logo

Arlington residents can count themselves above average, compared to the region as a whole, in their initial response level to the 2020 U.S. Census, and county-government officials are hoping that participation proclivity continues to propagate.

“I was really surprised by this, and really proud,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said on March 24 of the household-response rate in Arlington, which as of the day before had been 27.4 percent – above the 23.8 percent in Virginia as a whole and the 21 percent nationwide.

With the exception of the cities of Fairfax (33 percent) and Falls Church (29.1 percent), Arlington was leading the regional pack as of March 23. Fairfax County’s rate was 27.2 percent and Alexandria’s 25 percent.

Speaking to County Board members, Schwartz said it was imperative that “we keep our eye on the ball” and continue to encourage the public to respond.

In a world largely shut down over public-health concerns, maintaining that momentum could prove a challenge. All of the county government’s in-person outreach efforts have been canceled (although they could be restarted later).

But to help things along, Schwartz offered a poem he penned himself. “COVID has us all feeling frustration/what a great time to ensure our county’s enumeration,” goes the first line.

(“It’s really bad,” the county-manager acknowledged. “As someone would say: ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”)

Ten years ago, Arlington lagged the state average in overall census response rate, in part because county leaders assumed – incorrectly, as it turned out – that single-family neighborhoods would be more likely to respond, and therefore did not need as much outreach.

For 2020, the government’s outreach efforts have been targeted countywide.

There are some ways to keep the drumbeat of publicity going even in a hunkered-down world. Those receiving support from the Arlington Food Assistance Center in coming days could see it packaged in census-themed bags, and will receive leaflets on the importance of an accurate count.

The 2010 Census revealed a total county population of 207,627 residents. More recent estimates have been in the range of 240,000, and county officials project that the population could reach 300,000 by 2045.

Americans in mid-March began receiving one or more “invitations” to respond to the Census, hopefully doing so online. Reminders will be sent to those who have not responded in coming weeks, with census-takers fanning out across the land from late May into August contacting those who did not respond – although the timetable is dependent on public-health issues.

The Census Bureau is slated to transmit a full report to the president by Dec. 31. Virginia will be among the first states to get a look at detailed 2020 Census data, because it will be used for redistricting in advance of the commonwealth’s November 2021 General Assembly elections.

• • •

For information on Arlington’s census efforts, see the Website at www.arlingtonva.us/census.