Pennsylvania’s census count should be fair and accurate

Who Might Be Missed? 



Conducting an accurate census has always been a difficult task. The Constitution requires a count of everyone living in the United States on Census Day, regardless of age, immigration status, language spoken, or interest in the census.

Historically, some communities have been more likely to be missed in the count than others:

In part, that’s because these communities are more likely to live in difficult to count circumstances, such as renting rather than owning homes or living in non-English speaking households.

The 2010 census missed at least 1.5 million people in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau’s analysis. Here is a map of what counties were undercounted in 2010 and have growing hard to count communities:

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Our Communities: Kids

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects that will result from an undercounting of Pennsylvanians in the 2020 Census. During the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau estimates that approximately one million children under the age of five were not included in the Census.

The Census determines funding that is critically important to children and young families, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. If all of Pennsylvania’s children are not included in the 2020 Census, then children across the Commonwealth will receive less support for access to food and healthcare than they are entitled to.

Our Communities: Immigrants

The decennial Census is a Constitutional requirement. In addition to determining how over $600 billion per year in federal funds will be allocated to the states, it also determines each state’s representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, and an undercount could cost Pennsylvania millions of dollars as well as one or more seats in the House, and one or more electoral votes in Presidential elections.

There is currently a proposal to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. Not only would the addition of this question be unconstitutional, it would also pose a threat to a fair, accurate, and cost-effective Census. Representation in the House is based on the total number of residents of a given state, regardless of citizenship status. Every Census since the first one in 1790 has adhered to this rule, and during adoption of the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, legislators explicitly rejected proposals to allocate House seats by population of eligible voters rather than total population.

To learn more about the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and the negative effects it would have on Pennsylvania and the nation at large, click here.

Our Communities: People of Color

People of color have been historically undercounted by the Census. Scientific research into Census accuracy conducted since 1940 has shown that not only are people of color consistently undercounted, but non-Hispanic whites have been consistently overcounted, further compounding the problem. In 2010, non-Hispanic blacks were undercounted by 2.06 percent, while non-Hispanic whites were overcounted by .83 percent, leading to a total differential undercount of nearly 3%.

Undercounting has been a consistent issue for many communities of color, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous Peoples. Part of the difficulty stems from distrust of government among these communities due to lengthy histories of discrimination and unequal treatment by the government. According to a report from the Census Bureau’s Hard to Count Population Working Group, there are also factors specific to various communities of color that further contribute to their historical undercounting. Some examples include the fact that African Americans are statistically less likely to have internet access at home, an increasingly important factor as much of the Census moves online; Latinos are more likely to be immigrants and therefore non-English speakers; and some Asian immigrants come from countries that do not have a census system. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the historical undercounting of communities of color.

Among the Hard to Count Population Working Group’s recommendations was a suggestion that the Census Bureau work with local community groups and other organizations to assist in identifying information that may help the Census Bureau count these communities more accurately, and ensure that Pennsylvanians of color receive the representation that they deserve. Local organizations can partner with the Census by contacting a Partnership Specialist at your Regional Census Center.

Our Communities: Rural Households

One community that stands to lose tremendously if Pennsylvania’s 2020 Census count is inaccurate is rural households. For a number of reasons, rural households are more difficult for the Census to count. These reasons include the fact that rural residents are less likely to return Census forms sent by mail, and rural households are less likely to have access to the internet, which is rapidly becoming the Census’ preferred method for reaching those who do not return mailed forms. During the last Census in 2010, the Census Bureau listed 316 counties nationwide as “hard to count,” 79% of which were rural.

Pennsylvania is a state with a significant rural population. In 2010, nearly 3.5 million Pennsylvanians, or 27% of the state’s population, lived in a rural county. Rural counties are at the greatest risk if their populations are undercounted because without an accurate count, these rural areas stand to lose out on millions of dollars in federal funding designated specifically for rural areas. These programs provide low-to-moderate income housing loans, rural electrification loans, water and waste disposal systems for rural communities, rural rental assistance payments, business and industry loans, and the cooperative extension service.

In FY 2016, Pennsylvania received $760 million from the federal government just for these six rurally-targeted programs. If these communities are undercounted in 2020, millions of rural Pennsylvanians will lose out on programs that help them secure affordable housing, start new businesses, and have access to electricity and clean water.

Our Communities: Low Income Households

One factor that contributes to the consistent undercounting of all these communities is poverty. During the 2000 Census, low income households had only a 64% Census return rate. Households with less than $30,000 in annual income have consistently had far lower access to the internet than higher income groups, which has only made matters worse as the Census increasingly moves online.

Pennsylvania receives more than $39 billion per year from the federal government in programs where funding is determined by the Census. This money includes support for things like food, housing, energy, and clean water that are absolutely vital to the most vulnerable among us. To lose access to any of the funding for these critical programs to which Pennsylvania is entitled would be devastating to millions of Pennsylvanians of all ages and races, from the largest cities to the smallest rural communities.

We must join together to ensure that every Pennsylvanian has a voice. To learn more about how you can help ensure that the 2020 Census in Pennsylvania is fair and accurate. Contact us here.

Our Communities: People Experiencing Homelessness

People who are experiencing homelessness have likely been undercounted in the Census for decades. If this extremely vulnerable population is undercounted, Pennsylvania could miss out on funding for programs that provide rent assistance such as the Rural Rental Assistance program, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, and Section 8 Housing Assistance.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that on any given night, upwards of half a million Americans experience homelessness, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty believes that the figure is actually much higher. During the 2010 Census, over 400,000 people who were experiencing homelessness were counted.

The Census attempts to count people experiencing homelessness by going to places where this population is known to congregate – including shelters, soup kitchens, campgrounds, and encampments. In order to identify locations to survey, the Census Bureau relies in part on assistance from local community organizations. Your organization can partner with the Census Bureau to help identify locations in your area where people experiencing homelessness might be found by connecting with a Partnership Specialist at your Regional Census Center. Further information on the Census and people experiencing homelessness can be found here.