2020 Census: An Undercount Will Confound the Poor and People of Color

David R. Jones, Esq., President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York | 6/13/2019, midnight
By law, the United States government is responsible for conducting a census every 10 years to count all of the ...
David R. Jones Contributed

As it stands, New York State could lose one congressional seat after the 2020 census because growth in the state has not kept pace with that of the nation. The potential loss of a second seat could come down to as few as 50,000 people, which an accurate count in the city — the only part of the state that has seen substantial population growth — may avert.

The Census Bureau must not only count people, it must put them in the right place — their homes, whether that be a single-family home, an apartment building or a senior health care facility. It's especially challenging given that New York City has more than 3.6 million addresses. Apartment-dwellers are more likely to both receive federal aid and have children. The Census Bureau’s own analysis found that it undercounted young children by 4.6 percent in the 2010 census while missing 1.1 percent of renters (a category sometimes used as a proxy for low-income residents). And people need to feel comfortable answering census enumerators’ questions, which is why the Bureau must do all it can to hire individuals of diverse backgrounds and not make the same mistake it did in 2010, when its hiring practices landed the Bureau in federal court for Title VII violations, a lawsuit my office helped pursue.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, state governments, foundations and non-profit advocates like the Community Service Society will need to work together on an unprecedented, coordinated grass-roots campaigns to convince immigrants, the poor and people of color to complete their census forms.

This is shaping up to be the most intensive, high-profile public service campaign New York City has ever seen. And with so much at stake, it deserves nothing less.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.