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Undercount reveals inequality

By September 16, 2020February 13th, 2021Blog


Why are census response rates lower in Central and Eastern Washington? Last week, Republican legislators Honeyford, Warnick, and Short were quoted in the Omak Chronicle, sounding an alarm about the undercount—especially in Okanogan and Ferry Counties.

I echo their concern. However, these legislators wrongly imply that responses are low because Western Washington is pitted against Eastern, or Democrats against Republicans. That ignores underlying inequalities that causes rural areas to be undercounted.

I work for the Washington Census Alliance, a coalition of organizations across the state performing census outreach. We work with rural and Latino communities, because they have consistently been undercounted in the census. Okanogan’s current response rate of 42% is close to its 2010 rate of 44%. By contrast, 75% of King County has responded, up 5% from 2010. Why the difference?

For one thing, the census can now be completed online. That’s far easier when you have consistent internet access. Additionally, rural communities rely on door-to-door census outreach, partly because unlisted addresses can’t receive census materials in the mail. The Census Bureau’s recent decision to cut door-to-door outreach by a month will have a devastating impact on the count of rural communities.

Legislators should talk about how profit-driven internet providers refuse to expand broadband access across Eastern Washington. They should voice opposition to the Bureau’s reduction of critical outreach. Let’s stand united — across the state — in addressing the real problems that prevent everyone from being counted.

This letter to the editor was written by Denisse Guerrero and originally published in The Spokesman Review