This Black History Month, make a commitment to participate in the 2020 Census. It matters for Black communities

Dr. Hazel Dukes and Julie Menin | 2/6/2020, 12:08 p.m.
This Black History Month, we’re here to let you know: if you think the Census isn’t for you, think again.

This Black History Month, we’re here to let you know: if you think the Census isn’t for you, think again. 

If you have found your communities to be underfunded, the Census is for you. If you think your local schools need more teachers and more supplies or programs, the Census is for you. If your child needs healthcare, the Census is for you. If you’re caring for an aging parent, the Census is for you. If you have found your communities to be underrepresented, the Census is for you. 

The Census, which only comes around once every 10 years, is our chance to help set things straight for our communities by ensuring they have the services they need to thrive. The Census determines the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars for education, healthcare, housing, transportation, and more––and the number of seats we have in Congress. However, historically the Census has been missing a lot of New Yorkers, particularly those from Black communities.

This isn’t surprising. 

The Census has undercounted Black Americans throughout history starting with the ignoble “three-fifths” compromise that codified Black Americans as less than human, to the weaponization of the Census during the Jim Crow era, to the federal government underfunding Census outreach for this year.

It’s no wonder, then, that Black Americans have not shown up in the Census. Black men and Black children, in particular, are significantly more likely to go “missing.” In 2010, for example, Black children were undercounted at twice the rate of non-Black children. This trend has the risk of continuing today. Additionally, recent data from the Pew Research Center shows while most adults plan to participate in the 2020 Census, Black adults are significantly more likely to be undercounted.

Only we have the power to change this. 

The Census is going to happen with us or without our communities, and if we need for it to count for all of us, we’ve all got to be counted. 

The stakes could not be higher for us in New York City, where we’ve already got a problem. In 2010, the national average self-response rate was 76%; in New York City, it was just 61.9%. And in neighborhoods with large populations of Black New Yorkers, from Wakefield to Central Harlem to Rosedale to Bed-Stuy, the self-response rates were in the 40-to-55 % range, telling a grim tale indeed. 

This means that not only did New York City not show up fully in the Census, but neighborhoods with large Black populations were left at an even greater disadvantage (remember that many local and state funding decisions are also informed by the Census, as are legislative district maps). 

If we don’t participate in the Census, we are literally leaving billions of dollars on the table for programs our communities need––and we’re allowing the power of our voices in Washington and Albany to be significantly diminished. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen, Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, and dozens of partners have launched New York City’s $40 million Complete Count Campaign, which has a particular focus on our historically undercounted communities. We’ve invested $16 million in local, community-based organizations, including in groups such as Allen A.M.E., Brooklyn NAACP, African Communities Together, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers, BronxWorks, the New York Urban League, and many others, to support on-the-ground organizing, and we’re spending $3 million on local and multi-lingual advertising, the largest such investment ever made by the city.