Sean Joe

Not since the times of slavery that such a unique opportunity existed to ensure that every black households in St. Louis is completely and accurately counted. 

During slavery, the nation made sure that few blacks were miscounted, especially in the Southern states, for it was in their immoral self-interest. Because of the new online and telephone census process, coupled with the unfortunate need for COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home restrictions, many Americans now have the time and an easy way to self-determine how much resources for hospitals, schools, housing, and improved roads they will have in years to come by simply completing their household’s 2020 census.

Completing the 2020 census – and everyone verifying it is done, one family at a time – can guarantee shelter, education and food on the table for today’s children and tomorrow’s grandchildren, especially for those living in North City and North County.

Sheltering in place, black households have a unique window of opportunity to surpass the 2010 Census completion rate of less than 60% for the City of St. Louis. Pre-COVID-19 approaches are not sufficient. We must act now and apply great intensity within family and friend networks before COVID-19 fears take hold and foster concerns about the safety of participating in this door-to-door U.S. population count in the months ahead.  

Fear for one’s health will be added to other factors threatening to suppress the North City and North County 2020 census count. The threats already include an underfunded field operation, the March suspension and prolonged extension of field operations by the Trump administration, and the pending vast amount of unattended mourning of the deaths from COVID-19.

The 2020 Census is more than a population count. It's an opportunity to shape the future of our community, hospitals, and schools. The distribution and strength of black political power for the next decade will be determined by how high our response rate is for the 2020 Census. Because of a lower-than-expected 2010 Census response rate, the St. Louis black community lost one congressional seat. Simply put, if black households (especially black men) are not counted, then when the nation is deciding on the amount of federal dollars spent in our neighborhoods or who will represent our vote, we won’t count!

Regional efforts to get out the count for the 2020 Census have begun despite severe headwinds, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question, which would have significantly depressed turn out. Yet misinformation and the belief that the census does not matter threatens the futures health and well-being of black children and families.

Census misinformation targeting the black community is unfortunately alive and well. For instance, many believed that April 1 was the final deadline to submit the 2020 Census forms. No, the current deadline is August 15, yet this idea continues to flourish. 

Another, commonly mentioned concern is that if you share accurate information about who is in the house it would lead to a loss of government benefits or possibly being kicked out of your house. No – Census data is among the most protected in the nation. It’s the law that people’s answers to the Census cannot be shared with any government agency or court or be used against them by in any way.

Finally, some believe that immigrants or those with a criminal record are not allowed to complete the Census. Again, that is false. The purpose of the 2020 Census is to count everyone living in America – period.

Remember, the 2020 Census is about population density. For every single adult, youth, or children who is not counted, you lose about $1200. So, if we don’t have all of us counted, then we are only short changing our own family, blocks, and neighborhoods.

The Brown School’s HomeGrown StL aims to use social network power to encourage black households in the St.

 Louis region to complete the 2020 U.S. Census on their own (online or by telephone) by May 30. 

We are especially focused on making sure that black males, particularly those ages 18-29 years, are counted in their household’s census. Since 2015 HomeGrown StL has been our regional roundtable that brings together multisector community stakeholders to develop regional strategic plans to disrupt dehumanizing care or fragmented care coordination and to invest using life coaches. We plan to help improve the well-being and upward mobility of an entire population of black males ages 12-29 years in specific St. Louis neighborhoods within a generation (by 2040). Now, we plan to use networks to make sure every black male is counted in the 2020 Census. 

We ask that families, churches, social groups, or any organizations first focus on completing the count at home before doing outreach to others  Since mid-March, we have been working with community partners, social media, and friendly competitions toward a goal of 100 percent participation among households in St. Louis city and county. This work is being co-led by Gena McClendon, Cynthia Williams, and Michael Jones.

As of April 27, the 2020 Census household self-response rate for the City of St. Louis is only 40%, which is well below the 75% self-response rate for St. Louis County and the 50% self-response for Missouri overall. Together we can achieve the goal of 80% accurate and complete count for St. Louis city and county by May 31. This will put us on track for surpassing St. Louis city’s 2010 completion rate of 56.7% and the St. Louis County’s 2010 completion rate of 75.2%.

Black men represent one of the most historically undercounted groups, and net undercounts of this group were among the highest observed in the 2010 Census, reaching 10% for some age groups. We left a lot of money and power on the proverbial table.

Complete your census online while staying healthy at home by May 16 at If you are responding online, you must complete the Census in one sitting, because you don't have the ability to save your answers or to log back in to finish the form.

Then challenge another family, social club, agency, school, or company to a friendly competition to see who can achieve a higher response rate.

If you have completed the Census then show you have joined the STL 2020 Census Challenge movement by changing your social media profile pictures or posting with the hashtags: #STL2020CensusChallenge.

Visit the 2020 Census response rate map ( to see how the City and County or even your own zip codes is responding. 

For more information, visit or contact Gena McClendon at

Sean Joe is principal director of HomeGrown Stl and associate dean for Faculty and Research at Washington University in St. Louis.


You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.