The Pennsylvania Census 2020 Complete Count Commission is on track for the 2020 census with plans and strategies to ensure that everyone is counted when the time comes next year.
“We will concentrate our efforts in making sure that all individuals in suburban, urban and rural areas of Pennsylvania are counted,” says Norman Bristol Colon, of the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Bristol Colon leads the census commission as executive director.
“We have 12.8 million people in the Commonwealth, so we are using all of our resources to make sure we are educating individuals all across the state on why the census is so important,” says Bristol Colon.
Getting an accurate count is imperative because census numbers affect daily life in numerous ways. Results are used to redraw congressional boundaries and school districts, as well as to determine how more than $675 billion in federal funds will be allocated to each state.
“The census is the largest activity we have during peacetime in our nation,” says Bristol Colon. “It is mandated by the Constitution, so this is a task that we are taking very seriously in Pennsylvania.”
Most people understand the responsibility of filling out a census form and what is at stake for their communities if they don’t complete the questionnaire. But interest in the census is not universal. Despite the significant time and money spent conducting each decennial census, certain groups of residents are consistently undercounted or have low response rates.
Who is at risk of being miscounted?
Millions of people are at risk of being undercounted in next year's national head count, according to new projections by the Urban Institute, due to Census process changes and demographic changes.
Low response among Hispanic residents and immigrants because of the recent political discourse around immigration could result in greater miscounts.
“Let me be clear. When we say ‘everyone must be counted’ we mean everyone,” says Bristol Colon. “That includes individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, children under the age of four, legal residents, undocumented and documented immigrants, because they are among the hardest to count. Every single one of them needs to be counted on Census Day.”
The responses, says Bristol Colon, are safe and protected by law. The information can only be used to produce statistics.
State governments rely on census data to budget for services like emergency response and fire departments, social welfare programs that assist the poor, elderly, disabled and veterans. State and local governments and private industries use demographic figures to plan new hospitals and housing developments, for example, or to assess the need for new schools.
Pennsylvania stands to lose if people don't participate in the census. Seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned by population, with the most populous states receiving the most seats. “We will definitely lose political power,” says Bristol Colon.
If the data collected in the census does not include all residents, the commonwealth could not only lose seats in Congress but also receive billions of dollars less in federal funds for a variety of services and programs.
With over 12 million residents, Pennsylvania receives nearly $26.8 billion in federal funding. That is over $2,000 per citizen.
“It’s simple. People need to be a part of this,” says Lancaster resident Noel Rosario.
Rosario, 38, did not participate in the last census but is looking forward to Census Day 2020.
“We all need to be counted. It’s a benefit to all of us,” he says.
Conducting a census is a major undertaking and the Census Bureau relies on the help and support of partners and volunteers. These are nonprofit, corporate and community organizations that spread the message and mobilize their constituents.
“We are at risk of losing money; we are at risk of losing one seat in the House of Representatives. We want to be counted and that is why we are working diligently in Lancaster and beyond, and taking the necessary steps to make sure the complete count happens,” says Ricardo Almodovar, community organizer at CASA.
Thousands of census workers are currently knocking on doors across the country to make sure the bureau has a complete list of addresses of where people live in the U.S.
“They are making sure we have the correct address. We have four million housing units in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, only about 70% of the addresses we have are correct, so they need to review about 30% of the addresses,” says Bristol Colon.
Most housing units that receive mail at their physical location will receive a letter by mail with instructions on how to complete the census questionnaire or how to complete it online. Housing units include houses, apartments, cabins and mobile homes— pretty much any place where people live.
In areas where the majority of housing units do not have mail delivered to their physical location, census workers will leave questionnaire packages at every identified housing unit.
The official Census Day is April 1, 2020. “But individuals can begin to fill out and submit their form once they receive it. They don’t have to wait until April 1,” says Bristol Colon.
Will you get in trouble for dodging the Census?
People will receive numerous reminders to complete the census, according to Bristol Colon. Individuals can answer by mail, online or by phone.
“If they don’t respond, a representative of the U.S. Census Bureau is going to be knocking on their door, asking them questions to fill out the form for them,” he says.