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Philadelphia, along with the rest of the country, is about to witness a rare opportunity. No, it’s not the return of Halley’s Comet — that’s in 2061. It’s the U.S. Census!

Conducted every 10 years, the census provides an official population count with demographics, which helps dictate the allocation of nearly $700 billion in federal resources, structures political districts and provides the basis for refiguring congressional seats. So yeah, it’s important.

The census kicks off in mid-March and surveying continues through July 31, 2020.

Because of how much of a huge deal it is, the City of Philadelphia is calling on residents to volunteer as “Census Champions.” This heroic bunch of Good Samaritans are educated about census and charged with engaging their own communities on purpose and protocol, and being available to answer any questions about the process.

The idea is that folks will trust acquaintances more than paid strangers pushing door-to-door information about a self-reported survey.

There’s a bunch of pages on the city’s website about participating, but turns out it’s kind of hard to find out how exactly to become part of Philly’s on-the-ground team. “How can we apply for Census Champions position please?” a reader emailed Billy Penn. “Hard to get information from Philly311!”

Here’s a cheat sheet for anyone looking to get involved.


Who can do this?

Any resident is eligible to be a Philadelphia Census Champion.

Why would I do this, again?

You may be asking yourself, “Why? I have to go to work, pick up my [insert family member] from [insert location], go grocery shopping and try to get to the gym. Why would I want to volunteer with the city to help educate my peers on the census?”

One reason could be that you care about being accurately represented in state and federal government.

Census results can influence elections. All 50 states will draw new redistricting maps after the population count. A formula based on the reported population informs federal government on how to divvy up the available 385 congressional seats between them. The info also helps determine how much federal money cities like Philadelphia get each year.

Important as it is, census accuracy depends entirely on voluntary citizen participation. The government rarely enforces penalties for failing to take the census, but it wants all 300 million+ of us to take the census, creating a perilous sort of honor system.

Can people take the census online?

This year the census is going digital for the first time, adding another layer of haze to the bureaucratic process. The Census Bureau plans to invite 80 percent of American households to complete online questionnaires. In a city like Philadelphia where the digital divide actually increased in recent years, this could be particularly challenging.

The process isn’t perfect. Pennsylvania allows counties to include in their population counts people who are incarcerated there, regardless of what town an incarcerated person calls home. Researchers found the controversial practice benefits majority white, suburban and rural communities, while urban communities of color suffer most.

Ok, I’m sold. How can I get involved?

Philly Counts, the local government arm that deals with all things census related, is using an app called FactSumo to provide self-paced online trainings for those interested in becoming Champions.

The city certified more than 2,000 Philadelphians during an in-person citywide training day initiative back in September, but interested residents can still participate by completing the online course.

Training lasts about 90 minutes. To request more information directly, or request an in-person training, fill out this form found through the Philly Counts website.

Is there a deadline?

Any Census Champion training should ideally be completed by this December.

After that date, trained citizens can take the next steps to become an Action Leader or participate in one of three upcoming community engagement days on March 21, March 28 or April 3. Census Champions do not have to become Action Leaders.

Where can I do this?

You can be a Census Champion from any Philadelphia neighborhood. Neighborhoods most in need of trained census community members are North and Southwest Philadelphia.

As far as training, the online program can be completed from anywhere.

But wait, there’s more.

There are paid census taker jobs remaining. These are part-time and temporary positions that will help conduct and enumerate the 2020 census. The pay rate for Philadelphia census workers is $21 an hour. Interested residents can apply here.

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...