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Despite Challenges, Allegheny County Exceeds 2010 Census Response Rate

The downtown Pittsburgh skyline on a sunny, clear summer day.
Keith Srakocic

Allegheny County residents responded to the U.S. Census at a higher rate this year than they did a decade ago, a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year for Census advocates.

“In this year of 2020, [the rate] feels like a massive accomplishment,” said Gregg Behr, co-chair of the Allegheny County Complete Count Committee, which oversees local Census outreach efforts. “Getting to a response rate that was better than the previous two censuses seems like something we can celebrate.”

Behr said the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County achieved a self-response rate of 72.2 percent, 1 point higher than in the 2010 and 2000 counts. The self-response rate is calculated by taking the number of responses and dividing it by the total number of housing units in a given area

Census data determines how much federal funding is allocated to schools, infrastructure projects and other critical services. The 2020 survey was completed a month-and-a-half ago, on Oct. 15.

Early on, one of the biggest obstacles was encouraging residents to respond despite concerns over the Trump administration’s desire to add a citizenship question to the survey. Efforts to include the question stoked fears that the Census could be used as a tool to capture undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration ultimately lost a court fight to add the question, but Behr said the push to make sure everyone felt included was always at the center of their work.

“There was always an element of our work focused on belonging,” he said. “Every resident in the city and the county belongs to this place, and deserves to be counted.”

Then, the pandemic hit, further challenging the group’s efforts.

“The pandemic upended all of our plans for outreach and connection to the community,” Behr said.

Instead, the committee turned to word-of-mouth, social media and text-banking during the shutdown to boost participation. Behr believes it paid off.

“In a year where there’s so much that’s bleak, it really does give me real hope for the ways in which this region can bounce back, and that we’ll do so with humanity at our core.”