Experts urge students to participate in Census, despite pandemic


Hannah Heisler | Senior Staff Photographer

The Census is crucial to determining the extent of resources available to the City.

By Grace Giglio, For The Pitt News

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Although many Pitt students have returned to their hometowns in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will still be counted in Pittsburgh’s population records for the 2020 Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau undertakes the task of counting every individual living in the United States every decade. Student participation is necessary to attain the most accurate population count possible, the results of which influence the direction of federal funding.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 45.5% of Pittsburgh households have responded to the 2020 Census as of April 14. Individuals can respond online, by phone or by mail to ensure they are counted in the right place.

Christopher Briem, a regional economist at Pitt’s Center for Social and Urban Research, said the Census is the primary way to collect information about the country’s entire population.

“The Census is really the basis for what we know about what’s going on in the nation,” Briem said. “So, I think all of us want that data to be as accurate as possible because there are so many programs that rely on that data.”

The federal Department of Education said in a March 15 statement that per the Bureau’s residence criteria, students living away from school will still be counted at school, even if temporarily living elsewhere due to the pandemic. This is achieved by Group Quarters Enumeration, which accounts for all students living on campus. Through this process, the University will report the name, sex, date of birth, age, race and alternate address for these students, as well as if they are of Hispanic origin.

According to the Census Bureau, students who live off-campus in the City should report that address to the Census, not their hometown address. If a student living on-campus must complete the Census for their household, they should self-report their “home” address as the residence they lived in on April 1. They should also report information on all other members of their household as of April 1.

Erika Strassburger, who represents parts of Oakland on the City Council, said it is important to ensure young voices are represented due to both the political and economic implications of the Census.

“As elected officials, we need to make sure that we know who we’re serving,” Strassburger said. “It has implications not only for federal funding, but for drawing district boundaries.”

Michael Glass, the interim director of Pitt’s Urban Studies Program, said data collected from the Census serves to direct federal funding towards resources like public transportation. 

If higher and more accurate population figures are reported, he said, it can help the Pittsburgh community by garnering support for competitive grants. 

“Being able to show a vibrant population matters when it comes to attracting businesses, services and just a better quality of life,” Glass said.

Councilperson Strassburger emphasized the importance the Census will have upon Pittsburgh throughout the next decade. 

“We want to design a city that’s right for the people who live there,” Strassburger said.