To the New York-based National Urban League, there are 3.7 million reasons to keep the U.S. Census count rolling into October.

That’s the number of Black Americans who weren’t counted in 2010, the New York-based civil rights organization’s study revealed earlier this year.

That number is 12 times the city of Pittsburgh’s entire population.

And at 9% of the total Black population counted in the U.S., it’s more than four times the figure the U.S. Census originally estimated weren’t counted in a follow-up survey eight years ago.

With the country grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of cities fear that will happen again.

The federal Census Bureau recently announced that the deadline for completing the 2020 Census has been moved to Sept. 30, nearly a month sooner than the original end date of Oct. 21.

A federal judge stepped in last week, temporarily halting the Census Bureau from continuing to wind down operations and lay off workers.

Over the past week, Pittsburgh joined Los Angeles, San Jose and other cities, as well as groups such as the Urban League, in a lawsuit to stop the Census Bureau’s timeline from being moved up.

“Undercounted cities, counties and municipalities will lose representation in Congress and tens of millions of dollars in funding. And communities of color will lose core political power and vital services,” according to the lawsuit, which includes Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the City of Pittsburgh as parties. 

Johnstown running behind 

Deacon Jeffrey Wilson, of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Johnstown’s Prospect neighborhood, said he supports the cities’ efforts, adding that the Johnstown community needs more time to make sure every home is counted.

Johnstown’s self-response rate, 50%, is among Pennsylvania’s worst.

Wilson said he hasn’t been seeing Census workers canvassing homes on his streets.

There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic is playing a role in that, he said.

“Traditionally,” he said, “Black churches are playing a major part of the education process. We make announcements all of the time – but not everyone’s hearing it. A lot of churches still aren’t open.”

Wilson and NAACP Johnstown branch President Alan Cashaw said that oftentimes the education process – from someone residents know and trust – is vital to getting people to participate in the Census because, historically, there’s mistrust about why the data are collected.

Many people don’t understand that the U.S. Census’ results determine how much funding is provided for school breakfast and lunch programs, road construction and rent assistance through the Section 8 program – and other government services.

It’s part of the formula that will be used to support communities and people in need over the next decade – many of them children, according to the Census Bureau. 

‘Rushing the deadline’ 

According to the National Urban League, seven out of 10 Black children ages 5 and younger weren’t counted in the 2010 census.

“We’re not going to allow the American people to be cheated out of a fair and accurate census count because politics has infected the process,” Marc H. Morial, National Urban League president and CEO, said in a statement, maintaining that the Trump administration has openly worked to drive down minority participation.

Now, the administration is “rushing the deadline” before legislative districts are drawn, Morial added.

Without an accurate count, minority communities won’t be fully represented when legislative boundaries are redrawn next year for state and federal offices, Cashaw warned.

That goes the same for the City of Johnstown itself, he said.

“No matter what neighborhood ... If we miss the chance to be counted now, they could be underserved for the next decade,” Cashaw said, noting cities such as Johnstown need more time to get the message across.

“You can make up a lot of ground in a month.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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