The newly digitized census count is coming on fast. Here's what you need to know - Philly


Sep. 16, 2019 3:46 pm

The newly digitized census count is coming on fast. Here’s what you need to know

On Sept. 17, Philly Counts is calling all city residents to attend a training and inform their communities on the 2020 U.S. census.
“Ask me! I’m a census champion.”

"Ask me! I'm a census champion."

(Photo by Hector Davila Jr.)

There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to be prepared for April 1, 2020, the date by which every American home will receive a notice to participate in the decennial census.

A few basics, per a Monday morning media training from the City of Philadelphia’s initiative to count every resident in the 2020 census, Philly Counts:

It’s mobile friendly.

Yes, this is the first year the U.S. Census will be conducted almost entirely online. Anyone will be able to access the nine-question form online via smartphone, tablet or PC.

But because many Americans have difficulty accessing the internet, oftentimes due to a lack of resources — especially true for Philadelphia — the traditional questionnaires via the phone, paper form in the mail, or by a representative are all still available to make submissions as convenient as possible. That includes access to 12 different languages.

(P.S. That’s also why the Digital Literacy Alliance’s third grant round is all about the 2020 census.)

It’s important to count everyone.

For fear of deportation, some undocumented U.S. residents may choose to avoid giving out any of their personal information to census takers. For such reasons, the 2020 census will not include a question related to citizenship.

Residents can avoid being scammed into a bad situation by looking out for basic signs. For instance, the difference between an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and a census enumerator is that the latter will never ask a person to step outside of their home, said Irene Contreras-Reyes, the City’s director of communications and digital engagement.


Also, a census worker will not request money or personal information such as Social Security or credit card numbers, and the census will not be sent via email. Residents should report any suspicious behavior.

Those frequently underrepresented during U.S. censuses include college students, people living without shelter, people who are incarcerated, and infants (born before or on Census Day) and children under 5, which leads to an undercount. Undercounts lead to less funding for some types of assistance, including:

  • Medical Assistance Program
  • Medicare Part B
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • School lunches
  • Special education grants
  • Highway funding/planning/construction
  • Section 8 housing
  • Federal Pell grants

“We cannot afford an undercount,” Contreras-Reyes said. “Every person not counted in the census is a loss of $2,100 per year over the next 10 years. That’s $21,000 missing from funding for Philadelphia, per person missed.”

Class is in session

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, Philly Counts will be hosting 50 training sessions that invite residents to absorb everything they need to know about the census and then report back to their communities. The completion of these trainings, held across the city, will result in people becoming a Census Champion, aka “a trusted messenger” who has the tools to educate others about the census and its impact on Philadelphia.

Find a local training

The champion trainings will cover a well-rounded base of information regarding any concerns or personal needs, and sessions will be available in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Six topics will be discussed:

  • Census 101: What you need to know
  • Data security and confidentiality
  • How does the census count everyone?
  • Digital literacy
  • Get involved
  • Keys to successful community participation

This year, in partnership with Philly Counts, locally made edtech app FactSumo will be promoted for use by all who desire to achieve Census Champion status. The app will feature lessons and self-practice questions so that every champion may be well prepared on the go.

And finally, if you attend a training session and the information you learn motivates you to run out the door and tell everyone about the census, then here are five ways to stay connected in the next few months:

  • Use the knowledge you gained to spread the word.
  • Follow @PhiladephiaGov and #PhillyCounts on social media.
  • Nonprofits: Apply to the Philly Counts Action Fund.
  • Apply to work for the U.S. Census Bureau, which is seeking to hire 3,000 temporary workers.
  • Attend the Census Action Leaders Summit on Nov. 9.

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