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Philly Counts releases Final Report on 2020 Census Operation

Friday, January 29, 2021

Press release

PHILADELPHIA — Philly Counts 2020, the City’s effort to support the 2020 Census, today released its final report, findings, and recommendations based on the work done in diverse communities across Philadelphia from December 2018 through October 2020. The report provides a thorough understanding of the multifaceted field plan, designed and executed by Philly Counts, that addressed individual and community outreach on the ground and engaged partner organizations, local leaders, and philanthropic supporters. 

“The Philly Counts team, along with the Complete Count Committee members and their subcommittees, built the foundation for this outreach, and community partners across the city ran with it, resulting in a tremendous and effective campaign,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to thank our incredible partners for their tireless efforts to ensure a complete and accurate count in Philadelphia for the 2020 Census. That work allowed for authentic and intentional engagement with Philadelphians from all walks of life and in every neighborhood.”

The foundation of the plan was centered around person-to-person outreach. Between September 2019 and February 2020, Philly Counts and its volunteers trained more than 8,000 Philadelphians to be Census Champions and encourage participation in their own communities.

“Philly Counts approached our work with the understanding that the people who live in and serve a neighborhood know that community the best. One-on-one conversations were crucial to educate and engage community members, and this was the basis of the trusted messenger model,” said Stephanie Reid, Executive Director of Philly Counts 2020. 

In addition to the common barriers to census participation and those specific to the 2020 Census, the pandemic brought a series of unique challenges that, unfortunately, coincided with the initial phases of the 2020 Census. Understanding the new reality and limitations due to COVID-19, Philly Counts’ modified its original plan to promote census awareness safely through the following strategies:

  • No-contact door hanger canvassing. Philly Counts teamed up with 57 partners, distributing nearly 300,000 door hangers throughout Philadelphia.
  • Launching a trauma-informed organizing strategy centered on phone banking to reach people during stay-at-home orders. Phone banking efforts started on March 30, 2020. A network of 600 volunteers made more than 308,000 calls, spreading awareness about the census and sharing the City’s COVID-relief resources.
  • Developing the COVID Community Response Captain (CRC) program in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Mayor’s Office. This program ran from April 2020 through June 2020, empowering over 1,800 residents with critical information and resources to take back to their communities. 
  • Distributing promotional materials and PPE. Philly Counts partnered with over 100 organizations and distributed approximately 9,000 masks, 11,000 individual hand sanitizers, and 7,000 tote bags with census QR codes to historically undercounted communities from May through September.  
  • Launching an advertising campaign using print, radio, and television to ensure that the 2020 Census was promoted on all available media platforms. 
  • Developing key partnerships to increase the reach and capacity of Philly Counts and leveraging existing communication platforms, networks, and resources on this engagement campaign.

Philly Counts 2020 was established to execute a campaign to encourage census participation.  Like most large cities in the United States, Philadelphia’s participation was below the 2010 Census participation rates. Only 56.9 percent of Philadelphia’s households completed the 2020 Census. In 2010, the self-response rate was 62.4 percent. While the overall goal to increase response rates was not met, the city’s participation would have been substantially lower without this coordinated effort. The lessons learned through this journey will serve as a roadmap for the 2030 Census. 

Below are Philly Counts’ key observations and recommendations for future decennial census efforts:

  1. Accurate census count and community engagement must start earlier for 2030.
  2. A close relationship with the local Census Bureau staff proved vital.
  3. Flaws in the national Census Bureau plan had direct local impacts.
  4. Create partnerships and raise funds to support outreach and engagement.
  5. Partner with local elected officials to maximize impact.
  6. Authentic engagement requires a financial investment.
  7. Successful engagement must acknowledge racial histories.
  8. Digital access is an equity issue that deserves funding and attention.
  9. Leverage established networks to build trust in communities.
  10. Diverse communities and neighborhoods require focused and integrated engagement.

The civic infrastructure created as part of the 2020 Census is strong, and it's much more than a network of volunteers that promoted census participation. The trusted messenger model has been used in the City's COVID-19 response, mutual aid efforts, and the 2020 General Election. Starting in February 2021, this network of volunteers will be leveraged again to engage Philadelphia's underserved communities around the COVID-19 vaccination process. 

Members of the public can review Philly Counts’ final report here.


About Philly Counts
Philly Counts 2020 was the City's initiative to support the 2020 Census. By working closely with community members and partners, this program increased understanding about the importance of the census, educated the public on how to participate, ensured responses from the public for a fair and accurate count, and supported filling census jobs. More information is available at