Make it Count: Support the 2020 Census


Make it Count: Support the 2020 Census

This is an important civic moment for our city and state. Just five months from now, Pennsylvanians will have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to be included in the 2020 Census. An accurate census count signals the importance of each person.

Population as determined by the Census Bureau also determines the number of Representatives of each state in Congress, and allocations of billions of dollars of federal funding for education, healthcare, infrastructure, food security and other programs. A complete and accurate census count is critical to ensuring that Pennsylvania receives its fair share of federal resources over the next 10 years.

Yet there are significant barriers to achieving a complete count. Historically, immigrants, people of color, children, and residents of rural areas and low-income households have been difficult for the Census Bureau to count accurately. These “hard-to-count populations” are at-risk of being missed in the 2020 Census. Compounding the challenges faced by past census-takers, 2020 marks the first count that will be conducted primarily online. People without internet access – typically those from low-income households or rural areas – may not be counted.

Achieving an accurate count in Philadelphia is a big challenge in light of:

  • the percentage of residents born outside the United States, which reached 14% in 2018;
  • the presence of broadband internet in only 72% of households, the second lowest rate among large cities;
  • the fact that over a quarter of total city residents live below the poverty line, the highest percentage among large cities nationally; and
  • 37% of Philadelphia’s children live below the poverty line, placing nearly 130,000 individuals into two hard-to-count categories.


It is estimated that a 1% undercount of Pennsylvania’s population would result in a loss of $3.9 billion in federal funding statewide – including $500 million in Philadelphia alone – over the next 10 years. Pennsylvania would likely lose at least one congressional seat with a 1% undercount. 

Organizations across the state are mobilizing to prevent an undercount. Pennsylvania Voice’s Keystone Counts Coalition is bringing together a network of grassroots organizations that can serve as trusted messengers in their communities, so that households at risk of being missed will be counted. The William Penn Foundation recently awarded a grant to Pennsylvania Voice for $1 million to support its Get Out the Count campaign.

Similarly, Philly Counts 2020, the City of Philadelphia’s census office, is working to ensure that Philadelphians are counted accurately. Just last month Bill Golderer, President and CEO of United Way of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, announced a $500,000 match campaign: United Way will double every dollar donated to support the City’s census count. The William Penn Foundation recently made a commitment toward United Way’s match campaign, and we hope others will support this campaign as well. This leadership from philanthropy and the private sector is essential to assure an accurate count. I participate on one of the Philly Counts committees, and know the important work that is made possible from our collective dollars.

We have only one chance to get this right. The population count will powerfully impact our next 10 years. Support for an accurate count now matters tremendously because all Philadelphians count.

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