Census pamphlets are sent to off campus houses to encourage survey responses. The Census Bureau will continue collecting responses until Sept. 30. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

As Census deadline approaches, Lehigh Valley continues to report improvement in response rate

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The Lehigh Valley’s 2020 Census response rates have improved since a Brown and White report on the data in June, a promising sign for the collection of the region’s population and demographic data. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Bethlehem’s response rate jumped from 65.2 percent in June to 70 percent as of publication, and Northampton County’s response rate has increased from 71.8 percent to 76.1 percent within the same time period. However, these statistics do not capture the totality of responses thus far. 

Stephanie Augello, the point person for the Bethlehem Complete Counts Committee, a city-led initiative encouraging residents to complete the Census, said the actual response rate is much higher, and that the current rate for Bethlehem only accounts for self-responses. 

With the addition of Nonresponse Followups by Census workers — which will include data collected from people who do not fill out the form online or through the mail — and group populations like Lehigh and Moravian, prisons and senior facilities, the actual response rate will be higher, Augello said. 

Pennsylvania’s self response rate currently sits at 68.5 percent, though after the addition of Nonresponse Followups, the total enumeration rate amounts to 95.9 percent. Augello said Bethlehem’s data will be adjusted in a similar fashion, and that the city’s total response rate will likely be closer to Pennsylvania’s total rate once all responses are accounted for.

Census results direct federal funding for local school districts, hospitals, local infrastructure and federal programs. The constitutionally mandated count also dictates how congressional seats are apportioned.

“The Census affects us all locally,” Augello said. “The pandemic has created a lot of expenses for education and also for our hospital systems … It also affects our food pantries. A lot of nonprofits are funded through the Census, which have come to the aid of so many people with food and resources, as well as rent relief. Us having the best possible count will ultimately help all these institutions and organizations.”

The Bethlehem Complete Counts Committee has initiated a variety of outreach programs to raise awareness about the Census, including social media outreach, advertisements on billboards and the radio, and weekly emails to families in the Bethlehem Area School District. The Lehigh Community Service Office has also assisted in distributing posters and business cards on the South Side. 

“[Lehigh] should make people more aware of the Census … for example, I don’t think I’ve seen any reminders or anything encouraging people to fill it out,” said Daniel Bramah, 23. “A lot of kids may not understand the importance of the Census, especially with how it affects how communities are run.”

Promoting engagement with the Census this year was difficult for a number of reasons, Augello said. President Donald Trump suggested in 2018 that a question regarding citizenship be added to the form, though the administration eventually bowed out due to time constraints. 

An illegitimate Census form was also sent out to residents in the Lehigh Valley, prompting them to divulge private information. 

Anthony DiMaggio, an associate professor of political science at Lehigh, emphasized the importance of Lehigh Valley officials continuing to assure people of the security and confidentiality of filling out the survey. 

“The process has been politicized, and it has undermined a lot of the confidence (in completing) the Census,” he said. “It’s not just people who fall into conspiracies who say they don’t want to fill it out, it’s people who are afraid they’ll be punished. The reason why this is so important, in another way, is, we have a right as a people to know what the demographics of our country are.”

DiMaggio explained a process in which if pollsters oversample or undersample certain groups of people, they can use Census data as a “weight” to adjust the population in the poll, making polling more accurate. If information from the Census is incomplete, pollsters will not be able to produce complete polling data.

The Census Bureau will end survey collection efforts on Sept. 30.

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