The Census count is ongoing, with high stakes (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)
Representatives Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) unveiled a report on Monday that shows the potential consequences of New York City being undercounted in the 2020 Census. The report comes as New York City continues to lag behind the nationwide response rate to the decennial questionnaire, although the city has gained ground in recent weeks.
As of Sunday, the national self-response rate stood at 61%, while New York City was at 52%. However, New York City’s 2020 response rate represents a 2% improvement from a month earlier and a 5% improvement from the city’s 2010 response rate at the same juncture. For the past month, New York City has outpaced the national self-response rate. Between May 12 and June 18, the national rate increased by 2.8%, but the city rate increased by 4.5%, according to the report from staff for the two long-serving Democrats.
“Today, we are calling on every New Yorker to respond to the Census. You can do it from the comfort of your home,” said Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, in a conference call announcing the release of the report. “You have the ability to help the future of our community and our city. All you need to do is fill out the Census form.”
The report, “It’s Time to Fill Out Your 2020 Census Form: Why a Complete Count is Essential for New York City,” comes from the staff of the House’s Oversight and Reform Committee, which Maloney chairs, and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The report highlights the potential consequences that an undercount could have for the federal funding New York City receives for education and jobs programs. The federal government allocates $1.5 trillion annually based on Census figures, for those types of programs and many others.
“Every facet of your life will be vastly impacted by an undercount of even one percent,” said Jeffries, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
The staff report warns that New York City is particularly vulnerable to being undercounted, as many groups typically undercounted by the Census reside in the city. Sixteen million people were undercounted nationally in the 2010 Census, but communities of color fared worst. African-Americans were undercounted by 2.1%, Hispanics by 1.5%, and Native-Americans and Native-Alaskans living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%. Furthermore, 4.6% of children under the age of 5 were undercounted. The report expresses the fear that the undercount in 2020 could be even larger.
For New York City alone, an undercount of the same magnitude as 2010 for the 2020 Census would mean nearly 40,000 African-Americans, 33,000 Hispanics, 1,100 Asian-Americans, and 4,000 Native-Americans would be undercounted, totaling about 78,000 New Yorkers of color being undercounted.
Additionally, New York is also home to other communities at risk for being undercounted. About 57% of New York City residents live in hard-to-count communities, according to the report; 17% of New Yorkers do not have internet access, which makes them much more likely to be missed.
The city loses $2,295 in federal funding for each child that is undercounted, according to the report. For education alone, that would mean $7.3 million per year in lost funding if there was just a 1% undercount of New York City children. Maloney said that total was the “equivalent of all the textbooks a child needs for a school year” for 29,000 students in New York City.
Additionally, a 1% undercount would also mean $3.7 million per year in lost funding for job training centers and career counseling. The city loses $281 in potential federal funding for each low-income worker who goes uncounted in this year’s Census.
Maloney said that the Trump administration and Senate Republicans are currently standing in the way of an accurate Census count. “We regretfully have had to fight to get [Census Director] Steven Dillingham to discuss things with us,” she said, “it’s hard for us to make an assessment.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the U.S. Census Bureau’s field operations, Maloney and other Democrats have requested that Census deadlines be pushed back. While some deadlines have been moved, a further extension of the overall count was included in House Democrats’ latest stimulus proposal, the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives, but has not been taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate as of yet. The bill would also require Dillingham to make monthly reports to Congress on the progress of the Census.
“This is so important because it shows why the Census matters to every community,” said Julie Menin, the director of New York City’s 2020 Census office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the report released by Maloney and Jeffries. “I think it’s important that people focus on the financial impact post-Covid.”
“We completely agree that it’s been very problematic,” Menin said of federal efforts. She cited the decrease in Census offices and door-knockers in the New York City area in 2020 compared to 2010, a decision made at the federal level.
Menin discussed the city’s wide-ranging efforts to inform New Yorkers about the Census, particularly in response to COVID-19. The city’s Census office has set up in-person outreach at food distribution sites and reached over 1.6 million New Yorkers through text-banking and phone-banking. Later this summer the city plans to launch 300 pop-up outreach centers to reach New Yorkers without internet access, a group particularly at risk of being undercounted.
In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Menin said that “if more people had filled out the Census in 2010, we would have had more money for our hospitals and Medicaid.” Referring to the crises at hand, she added, “this is not a time for people not to respond to the Census.”
The federal government extended the self-response period ending from August 31 to October 31 due to the pandemic.
Jeffries also did not mince words when describing the importance of the 2020 Census. “We need everyone to participate in the Census as if your life depends on it because your quality of life absolutely depends on it.”