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The Chance for Certainty in Uncertain Times: Census 2020

If you’re like many of us, you’re grappling with the new reality we face as COVID-19 continues to spread in our community. You’re thinking about how to keep your loved ones safe, practicing social distancing and adjusting to new working norms, not to mention perhaps stepping in as teacher to your kids or caretaker for family members. 

And while we try to manage the immediate disruption and navigate the new normal brought on by  COVID-19, here at United Way, we’re also thinking about the risks beyond the immediate health of our community. 

The 2020 Census is underway and even before COVID-19 hit our region, Philadelphia and our surrounding communities were at risk of a Census undercount. And now we face additional challenges.

The Census, mandated by the Constitution to occur every 10 years, provides a count of every person living in the U.S. - and the data that is collected is used to determine how $800 billion in Federal funding is distributed. That funding is critical to maintaining our region’s infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and healthcare facilities and more.

But our region is at serious risk of an undercount. The 2020 Census faces unprecedented challenges. It’s the first “high tech” Census. Instead of paper, people must complete it online or by phone. There are fewer resources behind the count, meaning less outreach about the role the Census plays in each community. There is fear about what happens with information that is shared. And just in Philadelphia, there are ~400,000 people who are a part of “hard to count communities” – including people of color, immigrants, low-income families, and young children. Added to that, COVID-19 and the recommended social distancing protocols mean frontline Census workers can’t begin making their door-to-door visits to encourage community members to complete the Census. 

What would an undercount mean for our region? It would mean we get less than our fair share of critical Federal resources and would have long-term effects on policy and political representation. Using Philadelphia as an example, for every person not counted in the 2020 Census, the city will miss out on $2,100 in annual funding to support crucial  infrastructure and services. And in the 10 years until the next Census, that balloons to more than $21,000 in lost funding – just from a single person being missed in the count. Even a 1% undercount would mean a loss of almost $500 million to support safety net and other services over the decade. 

In short: if just a single person in our community isn’t counted, we all lose out. The stakes are simply too high, especially as we strive toward a post-COVID recovery.  

The Census is in full swing and we need to get this right for the  future of our community. If we work together to ensure every person in every community is counted, we make sure our communities get the representation and resources we deserve, grow economic opportunities and jobs, support education and other public resources – all vital to the growth of our region. We reduce the barriers that so many in our community face and help more of our neighbors get access to the resources they need to build well-being.  

With the Census deadline looming, we need people like you to join the fight for our community and be counted today. It’s never been easier to get counted by responding on your own from your COVID quarantine without having to meet a Census taker.  In addition to being able to complete the Census by phone or mail, you can respond online by going However you  respond, make sure you have your Census ID, which you should have received in the mail, and set aside 10 minutes - it shouldn’t take any longer to complete. If you can’t find your Census ID, just call 1-800-354-7271 for assistance.  

You can also raise your voice – and awareness for the Census – by using  #CountMeIn and #2020Census on social media and sharing why it’s more important than ever to be counted: 

    • The #2020Census is here & the stakes have never been higher. W/ #Covid19, our community simply can’t risk an undercount – join me in raising your voice and making sure your family and neighbors are counted. #CountMeIn!

It’s critical that everyone who can complete the Census do it now, on their own, and be a part of protecting our community now - by staying home and staying safe. It’s also a powerful way to protect our future, ensuring much- needed Federal funds for critical resources as we move toward recovery from the COVID pandemic. 

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