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Allegheny County census advocates working ‘furiously’ to meet new deadline

  • Lucy Perkins/WESA

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

(Pittsburgh) — After the U.S. Census Bureau announced in early August that it moved up the deadline to complete the 2020 count, advocates and Census workers in Allegheny County have been scrambling to meet the new timetable.

“We have a short amount of time to do more work,” said Gregg Behr, Co-Chair of the Allegheny County Complete Count Committee. Behr said the new deadline has pushed the committee to update its strategy. “We’ve been working furiously to redesign the plans.”

Originally, the Census Bureau had pushed back the deadline to count every person in the United States to October 31, citing disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But in early August, the bureau changed the deadline to September 30.

Behr said he didn’t know why the date was changed. But he noted that so far, Allegheny County’s response rate is only slightly lower than where it finished the last count a decade ago. In 2010, Behr said, the rate was at about 71.5 percent. As August drew to a close, this year’s count stood closer to 70 percent.

LM Otero / AP Photo

Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, census worker Jennifer Pope wears a mask and sits by ready to help at a U.S. Census walk-up counting site set up for Hunt County in Greenville, Texas, Friday, July 31, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Still, there are swaths of the county that have much lower response rates – in the 40 to 50 percent range – that Behr hopes the team will target in the next 45 days.

Communities of color, young children, and homeless populations are traditionally harder to count. According to a report from NPR, as many as 2.2 million Latinos, 1.3 million kids under the age of 5, and 1.7 million Black people could be undercounted nationwide by this year’s Census. Only white people are projected to be overcounted.

To target undercounted groups in Allegheny County, Behr’s committee identified 29 ZIP codes that it’s begun targeting through ads as well as phone and text banking.

“We do have neighborhoods and ZIP codes where our numbers still aren’t where we need them to be,” Behr said. “[These areas] largely run up and down the Monongahela Valley and into the city and then out along the Ohio River to McKees Rocks.” More specifically, he said, the undercounted region “runs from Clairton and Duquesne and West Mifflin and the McKeesport area, into the city to Oakland and the Hill District, and then out toward the West End and Manchester and the McKees Rocks area.”

To do outreach in those areas, advocates have tapped into more than $500,000 in financial support raised from roughly 15 funders, through Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania. Behr said that the funding has been crucial, especially on an expedited timeline.

“On top of that, our churches, our synagogues, and our libraries are mobilizing their networks,” Behr said. “Despite all of our challenges in the last seven months, we’re going to get to a place where I think we’re going to be proud.”

Census data is used to allocate representation in Congress, federal funding used for roads, schools, parks, emergency-relief services and other resources.

“We don’t get the chance to do this again for another 10 years,” Behr said. “The impact is going to last with us through 2032 or 2033. Think about how many elected officials will come and go between now and then.”

If you haven’t completed the census yet, you can do so at

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