Census takers identifying hard-to-reach populations across Western Pa., country | TribLIVE.com
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Census takers identifying hard-to-reach populations across Western Pa., country

Megan Tomasic
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Megan Tomasic | Tribune-Review
South 5th Street in Youngwood
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Megan Tomasic | Tribune-Review
Northmont Street in Greensburg
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Census Bureau
Census officials are working to identify hard-to-reach populations ahead of the 2020 census.

Disconnected doubters, wary skeptics, eager engagers and head nodders — these are all ways Census Bureau officials describe people living in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Released in late June, the 2020 Census Predictive Models and Audience Segmentation report is helping officials create a plan for the once-a-decade survey that determines the amount of public funds municipalities receive, the number of representatives each state has in Congress and what infrastructure projects get completed.

Paul Schutter, 67, of Greensburg’s Glenview Avenue says he plans on filling out the census — as he has in previous years.

“I’m an American — that’s the bottom line,” he said.

But through the report, census workers are targeting hard-to-reach populations, and people who have decided they’re not filling out the census, by breaking down populations across the country into eight tract segments — responsive suburbia, main street middle, country roads, downtown dynamic, student and military communities, sparse spaces, multicultural mosaics and rural delta and urban enclaves.

From there, groups are split into six subcategories that determine the likelihood of people responding based on age, housing, income and college education.

Where the region stands

According to the report, the Westmoreland County area is split into two larger groups — country roads and main street middle. Allegheny County is made up of main street middle along with responsive suburbia.

Country roads, which accounts for 16% of the U.S. population — mainly in rural areas or outside suburbs — is prominent in the outskirts of Westmoreland and into Washington and Fayette counties. People living in this designation will reside in owner-occupied homes on a below-average household income and will have a below-average college-educated population.

They are expected to respond at a lower-than-average rate.

Breaking the group into subcategories, 33% of people are classified as fence sitters, meaning they are expected to respond to the census, and 16% as eager engagers. Schutter fits the bill as an eager engager — made up of married people living in single-family houses, who will have a high rate of responding.

Country roads is made up of people who identify as wary skeptics, 15%, and disconnected doubters, 15%. A large number of wary skeptics and disconnected doubters means people in the country roads category are “less likely to believe it matters that they are personally counted” in the census, the report reads. The group is more common in the Midwest.

Main street middle accounts for 21% of the U.S. population, and a large chunk of Westmoreland and Allegheny counties. This group is made up of people 65 or older, living mainly in small towns and less-populated areas with a median household income of just over $52,000.

People living in these areas are expected to respond to the census at a high rate. Broken into subcategories, 33% are fence sitters, 18% are eager engagers, 14% are wary skeptics and 14% are confidentially minded, meaning people will respond to the census at a slightly below average rate.

For Christine Baker, 35, who lives on South Fifth Street in Youngwood, answering the census has not been a priority in the past.

But now, the licensed practical nurse said her tune is changing, and she plans to fill out the survey “so you don’t have to worry about not having health care or worry about your kids in school. I’m just sick of worrying what’s going to happen. It’s just really nasty right now. Everybody’s attitudes are horrible. It’s not about fixing anything, it’s about picking on each other.”

She hopes funds allocated through the census will help solve local and national issues.

For Dawn Paterra, 44, of Youngwood — who could be classified as a fence sitter — filling out the census is something she’s always done. She added, however, she could go either way with the survey, but said there are no questions that offend her on the form.

Responsive suburbia is the other group that makes up Allegheny County, particularly the northwestern side of the county, and across the state in the Philadelphia area. The group is made up of married, college-educated households with high-median incomes. Those in the area are expected to respond to the census in high rates.

Made up of fence sitters, 40%; eager engagers, 21%; wary skeptics, 10%; and disconnected doubters, 5%, the majority of people have little concern over negative consequences from participating in the census and show an above-average intent to respond, the report reads.

Holding a master’s degree, Greensburg’s Albina Smith, 70, of Northmont Street said, “I always answer the census. I think it’s important. We need to know the statistics.”

Smith’s cousin, Jerry Sopko, who was visiting from Penn Township, agreed, saying the census is important for allocating funds.

This year, local officials started to identify hard-to-reach populations — including parts of Jeannette, Monessen, Greensburg, Arnold, New Kensington and North Apollo — using the Response Outreach Area Mapper, or ROAM, which identifies census tracts with low self-response rates based on poverty and income.

Local officials have started the complete count committee aimed at working with groups of residents who are not likely to respond to the census.

Phil Koch, executive director of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, a local grant-making organization, said the committee has created sub-groups to help target different populations including community and faith, education, business and workforce and governmental.

Koch said the committee has been working to identify trusted leaders in each community across the county.

“We’ve been thinking a little bit about looking at regions, whether it be rural or whether it be out smaller town type areas … Who is the trusted person in the community? Who is the messenger, and what is the message?” Koch asked.

Census spokesperson Susan Licate added, “We rely on our partners and the outreach they provide within their communities to reach individuals who are hesitant to respond.”

Making a plan

Census officials are putting together a national-level plan for advertisements and how workers will encourage residents to fill out the survey online for the first time.

“During March and continuing through April 2020, our objective is to inspire and motivate residents to complete the 2020 Census questionnaire,” Licate said. “The campaign will begin with the launch of the online response website and the first mailing of the paper questionnaires.”

Those without internet will have a mail-in form sent in March. Licate said about 5% of households across the country will receive a census invitation dropped off by a census taker, and 1% of households will be counted in person by a census taker rather than being encouraged to respond on their own.

Determining where in the country people are less likely to participate in the census will help officials decide where to advertise. The areas will be aimed at encouraging people to respond to the census and will run in three phases and 13 languages — English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.

“From January through March 2020, the census’ objective is to build immediate awareness and provide educational information using both traditional and non-traditional media channels to reach as many people as possible,” Licate said. “The objective is to increase awareness of the upcoming 2020 census and prepare people to respond.”

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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