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AL DÍA CEO Hernán Guaracao (left) speaks with Fernando Armstrong (right) on Aug. 7 at the AL DÍA News room. Photo: Emily Neil / AL DÍA News
AL DÍA CEO Hernán Guaracao (left) speaks with Fernando Armstrong (right) on Aug. 7 at the AL DÍA News room. Photo: Emily Neil / AL DÍA News

The promise of the 2020 Census for Philadelphia and beyond

Fernando Armstrong, 2020 Census regional director, looks to ensure that everyone in the Philadelphia region is counted in the upcoming census.

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From maps strewn across the floor of his home in his native Puerto Rico, to the possibilities of the technology contained in one single smartphone in the palm of his hand, Fernando Armstrong has seen the process of the census change drastically over the more than 30 years he has worked for them. And he is confident that this time around, in 2020, those technological processes will aid census workers in obtaining an accurate count of every person who resides in the United States.

“It helps in the way that I have been through the census as it has evolved through being a paper census to now that [it] is going to take advantage and leverage a lot of technology that was not available before,” Armstrong, 2020 Census Regional Director of the Philadelphia Region, told AL DÍA CEO Hernán Guaracao in an interview at the AL DÍA office on Aug. 7.

Armstrong first started working for the census in 1978, in preparation for the 1980 census, while living in his homeland of Puerto Rico. He then worked for the 1990 census in Philadelphia and New York, and for the 2000, 2010, and 2020 censuses in Philadelphia.

He recalled that in the first census, he had maps “all over the floor” of his house as he worked to plan out routes to ensure that everyone, in every town, no matter how remote, was counted in the census. 

Today, though, “it’s a very different environment,” said Armstrong, who noted that the 2020 census is “taking advantage of a lot of technology and a lot of tools that were not available before.”

It’s precisely that change in accessibility that technological advances have allowed that Armstrong believes will be key in ensuring full participation of every resident in the U.S. in the census count — despite the scare tactics of the proposed “citizenship question,” which is not, he stressed, included on the census.

“I think that for the general public, the ways that they will be able to participate in the census gives them a much broader opportunity than before. People will have the ability of going online and doing the census, they will have the ability of doing it on the phone, they will have the ability of doing it on paper,” said Armstrong.

“This is the first time when we are providing all those options to the public,” he added, noting the fact that people can respond to the census online helps make the process easier, cheaper, and safer, especially for anyone who is fearful of government representatives coming to their door or knowing their address.

Armstrong noted that he was at a meeting in Maryland earlier in August at which many people expressed fear at having someone come to their door for the census count. The answer, he said, is to go online to respond to the census, or do it by phone.

“If you do that, no one has to come to your door,” said Armstrong.

Read more about Armstrong’s interview and Census 2020 in Philly in a full story to be published soon. 

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