Preparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters

Oct 12, 2009

Philadelphia is lagging behind other major cities in mounting the kind of local outreach and awareness campaign for the 2010 Census that many experts consider important for achieving a full count. Most of the 10 other cities the Philadelphia Research Initiative studied for this report launched their local coordination efforts months before Philadelphia’s kickoff, which is coming soon. Philadelphia’s pace in getting ready, including its late start in seeking out financial support, could make it harder to educate city residents about the value of participating in the Census next spring. A full count would ensure that the city maximizes its share of federal and state tax dollars and legislative representation in Washington and Harrisburg. City officials say they are confident of their ability to catch up.

Almost all of the 11 cities we studied have less money and fewer staffers for local Census preparation efforts than they did a decade ago. The most common reasons are recession-driven cutbacks and budgetary distractions. All the cities are participating in the Census Bureau’s key technical programs to improve the count, notably its residential address-updating program. This technical work by cities could be even more important than the outreach campaigns.

Without strong outreach by cities, the U.S. Census Bureau may have trouble improving its urban counts over previous Censuses and raising the below-average rate at which city residents participate in the official once-a-decade count. That could lead to greater undercounts of certain groups or an entire city, which in turn would affect the population basis on which legislative district lines will be drawn in 2011 and billions of tax dollars will be distributed throughout the coming decade. The stakes are particularly high in big cities, which have high proportions of hard-to-count groups—generally low-income renters, immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics.

A link to the full report is below. Also read the related press release Pew Report Examines Census Preparations in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities.

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