Gotham Gazette

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New York City Launches ‘Complete Count Campaign’ for 2020 Census

complete count census

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

In about eight weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau will officially begin mailing out questionnaires across the country and New York City intends to be prepared. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied with members of more than 150 community groups at NYU’s Kimmel Center to launch the city’s Complete Count Campaign to educate New Yorkers about the decennial population count and to recruit and train volunteers from hard-to-count communities to amplify those efforts.

The mayor's administration and City Council have put $40 million towards the census outreach effort this year, an unprecedented amount that dwarfs past administrations and all other municipalities across the nation. Of that funding, $19 million was awarded last month to 157 community-based organizations to reach hard-to-count populations that tend to have a low rate of self-response to the Census – seniors, low-income communities of color, immigrants and people with limited English proficiency, children below the age of 5, residents of public housing, and more.

On Tuesday, the mayor announced that the city will also spend $3 million on advertisements in ethnic and community media, about 65% of the total ad budget for the campaign, with the rest blanketing television, print, digital and social media. The campaign will include ads on the subway, on Spotify, Twitter, Facebook and more. 

"New York City has been on the front lines of the resistance against the Trump Administration and ensuring every New Yorker gets counted is central to that fight," said Mayor de Blasio, in a statement. "No matter how hard the federal government tries to silence our diverse voices, we still stand up and be counted."

An accurate count is essential for a number of reasons. The Census determines how many seats the state has in the House of Representatives and is the basis for about $74 billion in funding from the federal government that goes to social services and programs such as Section 8 housing vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often known as food stamps).

"A complete headcount in the 2020 Census is crucial for the future well-being of our city. We have to get this right to ensure we receive the proper federal funding for our schools, our roads, our health care, our public housing, and more," said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in a statement. "This is our once-in-a-decade opportunity to show the federal government that we are here, and that we count."

Besides New York’s high concentration of hard-to-count communities, there are also several other challenges associated with the 2020 Census including a predominantly online methodology for the first time and the tactics of the Trump administration, which tried unsuccessfully to place a citizenship question on the Census. After years of city officials warning immigrants to be wary of the federal government, they now find themselves trying to convince them to participate in the federal effort.

The Census Bureau is also woefully underfunded, and will hire fewer enumerators for the count. Enumerators head door-to-door in communities where residents have not responded to the questionnaire and their efforts are often inaccurate, risking an undercount. That’s why the city is hoping to ensure that New Yorkers’ respond on their own – in 2010, the city’s self-response rate was only 62%, compared with the national average of 76%.

City officials have promised a Herculean effort to achieve that goal. The NYC Census office aims to educate 10,000 New Yorkers directly and recruit 7,500 volunteers for Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (NOCCs), to conduct “Get Out the Count” efforts across the city including through phone-banking, text-banking and on-the-ground canvassing. The city has also pressed into service the City University of New York, a range of city agencies that regularly interact with the public, and 110 branches of the city’s three library systems. They are also being aided by a host of labor unions, business groups, faith leaders and houses of worship.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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