Campus organizations are partnering with local residents to spread the word that the City of Philadelphia can lose up to $2,800 per missing census form.
Temple students and local community members who do not complete the 2010 U.S. Census could be responsible for the potential closing of the libraries, the horrendous service of SEPTA and the vacant houses up and down Broad Street.
Many students at Temple don’t register for the census as Philadelphia citizens and instead let their parents put them down as citizens of their hometowns.
This year, the numbers could be different.
Temple Student Government, the Temple Black Student Law Association and the Progressive NAACP have partnered with the Philadelphia community to educate neighborhood and Main Campus residents on the importance of counting themselves in this year’s census. This movement, called the Census on Campus Initiative, aims to bring more resources to the city.
“We need resources. We need money,” said Lillian English-Hentz, a Temple employee and 1986 alumna. “We need money to continue helping the community survive. We need money to help the schools survive. We need money to help Temple survive. Unless everyone is counted, we won’t get the money, and it comes down to dollars and cents.”
Pennsylvania has $400 billion to allocate to cities and towns based on their populations. During the 2000 census, only 61 percent of Philadelphians sent back forms, according to U.S. Census response rates. The city lost two congressmen and received only a fraction of the federal money it could have. For every person who doesn’t register for the census in Philadelphia, the city loses roughly $2,800 in federal grants, according to the Philly Counts campaign.
Tomorrow and Thursday, Temple students will be “blitzing” residence halls to hand out packets to educate students on the census. Their goal is to have 250 students and residents target the Temple area on April 10, known as National Blitz Day.
“Each room in the dorm is going to be a household and get a questionnaire,” English-Hertz said. “Even if you’re not living there, say, five years from now, the household is still there. Somebody’s gonna live there. Maybe that person was counted somewhere else, but that doesn’t mean that the house isn’t going to be occupied, so those resources are going to be used.”
The resources at stake are transportation, public safety, medical care and road repairs, according to the U.S. Bureau. Census results affect college students as well, as the city loses federal money for tuition grants and loans, along with money for teacher, student and library research.
“It’s really good that students get involved with the census,” Jessica Reed, president of Progressive NAACP and director of local affairs for Temple Student Government, said. “Students live here the majority of the time, and there’s no point for very few resources to be stretched across a vast amount of people. Why not get the amount of resources to match the amount of people that live in this area? We need students to be counted in order for those resources to be counted properly, so people in this area won’t get the short end of the stick.”
Members of the Census on Campus Initiative said they want Temple to receive as much money on campus as off campus.
“Fifty percent of children in Philadelphia do not graduate high school,” English-Hertz said. “That is huge, and it’s important.”
English-Hertz added that Philadelphia’s children need encouragement to stay in school and continue on to higher education.
“It’s very dear to my heart,” she said. “It’s the reason I stayed at Temple. It’s not that they don’t know anything. It’s that they don’t have anything. We need money. Ten years ago is the reason we have what we have today.”
Despite benefits the census may bring, many Philadelphians are weary about filling it out.
“I think the blame is that the way the census has been worded in the past makes people think their privacy is being invaded,” English-Hertz said. “To be honest, people sometimes have to live together, and they’re not supposed to, but in order to survive, they have to.”
The U.S. Census Bureau has taken note of this hesitation. This year, its campaign highlights that filling out the census is as easy as “10 questions in 10 minutes.”
Rather than scare Americans with questions regarding income and social security numbers, census forms ask the number of people living in a residence, whether that residence is rented or owned and the names, ages, races and genders of those in the residence. Specific questions for socio-economic information will be asked of a small percentage of the population through the American Community Survey on a later date.
The idea behind the new format is to protect citizens’ information. The most important piece of information is the number of residents in different places. For the first time ever, the census should only take about 10 minutes to fill out.
On National Blitz Day, community residents and Temple students will go door-to-door from Ninth Street and Susquehanna Avenue to 17th and Jefferson streets to hand out information about the importance of filling out the census.
“We don’t want students to go door-to-door and educate members of the community,” Reed said. “Instead, we want it to be a collaborative effort, so a community member paired up with a student going door-to-door is more welcoming and less evasive.”
After Census Day, census takers will visit households that did not mail in questionnaires.
“[Census Day] April 1 is the magic date,” English-Hertz said. “Where you are living on that day is where you are living.”
“If you don’t fill out [the census], technically you don’t exist,” Reed said.
Melanie Menkevich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.