Blog Post

Census is the time to make #SeniorsCount in Philadelphia

By Shannon Reyes

The purpose of the U.S. census is to count the people and to collect vital data about the households in our nation. Questions on the census often include demographic information, such as race, age, income and living arrangements. It’s mandated by the U.S. Constitution, but the census means much more.

This information plays a large part in determining a state’s representation in Congress, as delegates from each state are determined based on the state’s population. Since the census is collected every 10 years, census data will also determine the next decade of federal spending, policies and decision-making.

“On the city level, we will receive $21,000 per individual over the next 10 years,” says Katie Young, planning manager for Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA). “Underserved people help to drive the city’s grant funding.”

Organizations serving older adults can request those funds from the city to help meet the needs of those they serve. That’s why senior centers have made it a priority to get older adults counted.

“We are really pushing the census, this year,” says Renee Cunningham, executive director of Center in the Park, located in Germantown. “Older adults are historically and chronically underrepresented, as are African Americans and people in this area of the city, in general.”

All people living in the U.S., whether citizens or not, are required to complete the census. However, several factors influence participation, including common misconceptions about its purpose and concerns about who has access to the information. Recent news, including the Trump Administration’s proposal to add an immigration question to the census, his caused a chilling effect among undocumented residents. In June, the Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question from being included in the 2020 census.

“There’s a lot of fear in immigrant communities around trust in the federal government,” Young says. “In this particular political climate, they have a strong desire to remain anonymous.”

This is particularly disappointing because such communities can greatly benefit from the funds that are appropriated as a result of census information.

Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot release any information that identifies a specific individual. Census employees and contractors are sworn for life to protect the information they process and risk facing up to $250,000 and/or up to five years in prison if they disclose any identifying information. The U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing information that could identify individuals with other federal, state or local agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The U.S. Census Bureau is also required to keep all personal data private and secure, as they push for residents to fill out their census online this year. Details on how to submit online will be included in the census invitations. In addition to using a securely encrypted website, the U.S. Census Bureau also houses a team of cybersecurity experts and works with the federal intelligence cyber community and industry experts to monitor and protect online data.

“There are places that people can go to get help with completing the census online,” Cunningham says. “And, if you fill it out online, you won’t have to worry about someone coming to your door.”

To lessen the apprehension around filling out the census online, Center in the Park is partnering with Generations on Line, an online nonprofit that provides digital tools to help older adults familiarize themselves with navigating the internet. Tools for completing the census on a computer or mobile device can be found at GenerationsOnLine.com.

In addition to online protections, the U.S. Census Bureau has also taken precautions to protect participants from fraud. In areas in which the census identifies low population counts, enumerators are deployed to canvass neighborhoods. The census taker or field representative will present an ID badge that includes their name, their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. Those who do suspect fraud can call 800-923-8282.

For more information, read our Census FAQs>>

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Shannon Reyes is Public Relations Specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.