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Low Census Response Rates for Non-English Speakers

Richmond street with cars
Census response rates are lower in the southern, eastern, and northern parts of Richmond, but high in the West End. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*This story was reported by VPM intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza

Local census data shows that non-white and non-English speaking groups in Richmond’s south side, north side and east end, are less likely to respond to the census than their white, English-speaking counterparts. 

While the majority of census tracts in the city’s West End reach above 60 percent, the highest response rate in the city’s Southside is 51 percent, and some Southside neighborhoods show response rates lower than 30 percent.

The Census Bureau provides online and over-the-phone support in 12 languages, as well as online guides in 59 languages to help non-English speakers participate. But people who speak Arabic, Urdu and other Asian languages have been the hardest to reach in Richmond.

Will Palmiquist of RVA Counts 2020 said the census is an important tool in determining the funding and political representation for these communities. 

“Immigrant communities and non-English speaking communities are usually some of the more vulnerable populations in the city and need the most attention and need the most resources,” Palmquist said.

Palmquist said the Richmond census office is actively searching for workers with language skills to help reach out to non-English speaking groups. He said Spanish speakers have been the most responsive non-English speaking group.

“There's no question about citizenship,” Palmquist added. “Whatever someone responds to on the census, that information cannot be tied back to them… It is forbidden to ever be shared with any law enforcement or immigration services.”

RVA Counts has been working with community partners to get the word out to non-English speakers through social media, since door-to-door operations have been called off due to the pandemic.

While the census response rate for the state of Virginia is 53 percent -- five percentage points higher than the national average -- only about 45 percent of Richmond residents have filled out the census so far.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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