Business community could face reduced investment with Census 2020 undercount
Getting a complete and accurate count for the U.S. Census 2020 is a task that directly affects business investment. That’s according to a state official who spoke at a nonprofit board meeting Tuesday morning to outline the importance of the upcoming Census to community leaders. Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, a local nonprofit, hosted the event for its board of associates meeting, which drew about 100 people to the Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel in Upper Saucon Township.
Norman Bristol Colon, executive director of the Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission for the state of Pennsylvania, said data collected from the decennial census is used to determine how more than $675 billion in federal dollars is shared with state and local governments each year. The funding provides statistical support for grant applications and helps businesses make smart decisions, among other things, he said.However, at issue is the lack of funding from the state and federal government. “Pennsylvania is investing 0 dollars in the Census,” Bristol Colon said. “We are making the case that this is important, it matters to everyone. This is a return on our investment.”
Though the Census is mandated in the U.S. Constitution, there are fewer Census offices in Pennsylvania than a decade ago.“Today, we have only nine census offices in Pennsylvania, so we have to do more with less,” Bristol Colon said.
In 2010, Pennsylvania had 18 Census offices. As a member of the state’s Complete Count Commission, Bristol Colon said he has been part of that group that provided the General Assembly with a plan to invest one dollar per person toward the Census 2020 but the legislature did not approve it. However, he is hopeful that the state government would provide some funding over the next couple of weeks.
“The Census matters to stakeholders,” Bristol Colon said. “Hospitals are making tough decisions, where to open the next hospital in the Lehigh Valley?” It also influences all companies involved in development, supply chains, logistics management, infrastructure and many other sectors. Businesses rely on Census data to inform and direct their work, he added.
An undercount of even 1 percent would cost Pennsylvania more than $22 million per year, he said. In Pennsylvania, 20 percent of the population is a minority and Pennsylvania today is more diverse than ever before, he added. Aside from minorities, college students are another group that could be undercounted as well as small children, the poor and the homeless.
Megan Briggs, director of community investments at Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, said her organization is working with partners in downtown Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton to ensure everyone is counted. In 2010, numerous Census track areas in those cities were undercounted by more than 30 percent, which resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in federal funding for the past 10 years. Right now, her organization is running campaigns in areas where the greatest risk for undercounting exists, including areas with large homeless, Latino and poor populations. Meanwhile, the Community Foundation is creating a Census Equity Fund where people can donate funds the foundation can send to nonprofits to train and educate people about the Census.
The Census Bureau is hiring 500,000 Census takers to collect data across the nation, said Erin Yasenchak, partnership specialist of the Philadelphia Regional Census Center. The jobs pay $18 per hour. They start in January and end in June. The bureau will collect data through the phone, internet and through traditional mail. The bureau starts mailing out Census forms in March and Census Day is April 1. The government will accept Census data through June.
Each state’s Complete Count Commission provides the final Census data to the president on Dec. 31, 2020.
“Ten years ago, there was funding, but all of that is not available now,” Yasenchak said. “There’s no specific funding we have at our fingertips. There’s community foundations in Pennsylvania so we are thankful they can provide funding to nonprofits to get the word out.” Even though the Trump administration decided to pull the citizenship question from the Census 2020, officials say there’s a fear that it will affect the count. Even though the question is not there and everyone’s answers are 100 percent confidential, there is a lot of fear, Yasenchak said.
This story will be updated.