What census mapping can tell us about the Keystone State | The Numbers Racket

By: - March 4, 2020 11:38 am

Counting 327 million people is hard. It’s even harder when you think of how many of those people live in remote areas of the country, don’t have permanent homes, are small children, or belong to tough to count populations.

The danger of undercounting certain populations could lead to inaccurate data, which is why the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research mapped the country’s census initiatives against its hard to count populations.

The map helps local census offices track identify areas they should focus their efforts on, knowing those areas are going to present more of a challenge. For instance, remote areas or regions with low questionnaire return rates during the last census count. 

According to the map, northeast and south central Pennsylvania present  the most challenges for local census offices.

Hard to count tracts in Pa. 

A census tract is a small geographical area for the purpose of counting people. They can overlap with city boundaries and legislative districts, but often are arbitrarily drawn. 

The map provides an overwhelming amount of insight into the tracts that were the most difficult to count during the 2010 census initiative

Among them are the following tracts: 

Tract 132 – Shippensburg, Cumberland County

Population: 4,825 (4,773 people in 2,371 households with 52 people living in group quarters)

  • Statistics – In 2010, 82.4% of this tract’s households mailed back their census questionnaire, requiring in-person follow up for 17.6% of the remaining households. 
  • Risks – In addition to self-response rate concerns, data from the American Community Survey suggests that this tract has a very high risk of being undercounted. 203 children under age 5 live in this tract. 
  • Internet access – According to ACS, 21.9% of households in this tract either had no home internet subscription or dial-up only. 6.5% of households only had a cellular data plan.

Tract 303 – Bendersville area, Adams County

Population: 4,356 (4,278 people in 1,629 households with 78 people in group quarters)

  • Statistics – Only 67.7% of households in this tract mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire. 32.3% required in-person follow up. 
  • Risks – This tract has a Low risk of young children being undercounted. ACS data estimates there are 219 children under age 5 in this tract.
  • Internet access – 19.5% of this tract’s households had no home internet or dial-up only. 5% of households had a cellular data plan only. 

Tracts 120 – 122, 124 – 126, State College, Centre County

Population: 24,151 – total of all tracts (6,020 people live in group quarters) Note: No data reported for Tract 121

  • Statistics – These tracts have low self-response rates. In 2010, Tract 122 only had 59.1% of households mail back their 2010 census questionnaire. Likewise, Tracts 120, 125 and 126 hovered in the upper 60 percent range.
  • Risks – All of these tracts have a high or very high risk of children being undercounted in the 2020 census.
  • Internet access – 34.3% of households in these tracts had no home internet or dial-up only. 34.9% of households had a cellular data plan only. 

Tract 9505.02, central Pike County

Population: 3,026 in 1,214 households. 

  • Statistics – In 2010, only 64.1% of households mailed back their census questionnaire. 35.9% required in-person follow up. 
  • Risks –  no data was recorded on children in this area
  • Internet access – 10.6% of households in this tract had no home internet or dial-up only. 5.4% of households have a cellular data plan only. 

Other hard to count areas in Pa. 

  • Norristown, Montgomery County
  • Multiple areas, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
  • Chester, Delaware County
  • Coatesville, Chester County
  • Lancaster, Lancaster County
  • East Prospect, York County
  • Scranton, Lackawanna County
  • Middletown, Dauphin County
  • Harrisburg region; Dauphin County
  • Multiple areas, Monroe County
  • Multiple areas Pittsburgh, Allegheny County




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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.