Fearing Federal Funding Cuts, City Focuses On Counting All Brooklynites In The 2020 Census

Fearing Federal Funding Cuts, City Focuses On Counting All Brooklynites In The 2020 Census

BROOKLYN — Five Brooklyn neighborhoods lead the nation in underreported census tracts in 2010, and New York City officials hope they can convince all residents regardless of their status to be counted next year. At stake are congressional seats and lots of federal money.

The Census launches in March 2020, but talk of it has bobbed in and out of the news cycle since March 2018, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed the bureau to add a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

In January, a New York court rejected the Trump administration’s request and for the second time, a California court blocked the plan last week.

“This question — and this is not an overstatement— is a blatant attempt to suppress the response rate in immigrant communities and immigrants of colors across the city,” said Julie Menin, director of the Census for NYC who appeared March 7 at a Center for Ethnic Media, Newsmakers Q&A panel at the Craig Newmark Graduate of Journalism School.

Errol Louis, politics anchor at NY1 hosted the hour-long panel and was joined by Kadia Goba of Bklyner and Abu Taher of Bangla Patrika.

“This is an attempt to defund cities— and not just New York City— but cities who have high immigrant populations and to switch the funding to red states,” added Menin.

There’s more stirring a year ahead of the 2020 count.

Recently, the Associated Press reported a hushed plan where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would provide the Census Bureau with personal data on non-citizens, further stoking the fears of New York’s densely populated immigrant population.

The census determines the reapportioning of congressional seats and the equitable distribution of public funds. The count determines—at a minimum—the amount of healthcare and educational funding states and cities receive from the federal government. New York State gets $53 billion of census-related funding each year.

Where does Brooklyn fit in the census?

But in 2010, only 61.9 percent of New Yorkers completed the census, compared to the nation’s 76 percent return rate. The undercount shortchanges more than 8 million residents of essential government funding.

“We in New York City are fighting for our fair share of what will amount to over 7 trillion that the federal government allocates to municipalities and states over the next decade,” said Menin.

Brooklyn was the most challenging borough to count in 2010.


Bklyner reported first-hand analysis in Southern Brooklyn where participation rates crept in at 44 percent in the first round, in 2010. The final count came in at 62.1 percent for Ridgites compared to 56.6 in Dyker Heights. Distrust of the government was listed among the reasons why residents didn’t complete the census in those neighborhoods.

According to the 2010 Census, Erasmus, Rugby-Remsen, Williamsburg, Canarsie and Stuyvesant Heights represent the least responsive communities in the nation. More than 46 percent of households in these areas had census mail returned during an initial mailing in 2010.

Erasmus, Rugby-Remsen, Canarsie have an average 42 percent foreign-born residents,  1.5 times greater than the rest of the city.

Residents in predominantly black Stuyvesant Heights had a 48.3 percent mail-return rate. While Williamsburg, which has a high ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, had a 45.5 percent mail-return rate.

“In the Orthodox Jewish community, they have one of the lowest response rates in the city,” said Menin who noted her team would work closely with the community to help boost the participation.

Mail return rate for neighborhoods throughout NYC, according to the 2010 census. (Map: Newmark J-School at CUNY)
The mail return rate for neighborhoods throughout NYC, according to the 2010 census. (Map: Newmark J-School at CUNY)

Those numbers reflect the 2010 census. But a recent Quinnipiac poll projects a 2020 repeat of low responses in Brooklyn.

While 91 percent of Brooklynites agree the Census is important, only 69 percent said they would definitely complete the survey. Equally alarming, only 66 percent were aware the census is used to determine the amount the feds dole out.

What’s the city’s plan?

Menin and her crew of 50+ intend to thwart the abysmal outcome before the 2020 deadline.

For the first time in history, New Yorkers can complete applications online. The real-time data will provide early notification of underreported area.

The “Census Czar” said the city will collaborate, through a granting system, with community organizers “who have deep-level community experience on the ground.” The city is now hiring and has listed some of the 50 city positions here.

There will be 22,000 enumerators throughout the country who will go door-to-door starting in June after the self-response period. The city will work with the federal government to hire enumerators through job fairs, workforce development sites, the city’s Small Business Services and CUNY.

Menin said she’ll experiment with incentives to encourage participation which should spur friendly competition between neighborhoods.

The city will partner with television, print, online and radio to get the word out, said Menin. She’s also open to non-traditional methods of advertising.

“We are working with [officials] on a proposal to make sure that the libraries are central repositories and pop-up centers for the Census,” said Menin who could face judicial pushback pending the Supreme Court’s April ruling on the citizenship question that hasn’t appeared on a U.S. Census in 70 years.

“And so, it is our fervent belief that if for any reason we do lose this case, we are going to go to the mat to make sure that every New Yorker fills this out — and that we send a loud and clear message to the Trump Administration that your tactic to try and take funding away from our great city did not succeed,” Menin said.

Here are some important takeaways from the panel:

  • New York City is hiring for the 2020 Census now. Apply here.
  • Title 13,  protects the confidentiality of your Census data response.
  • New Yorkers can respond to the 2020 Census via online, telephone, mail or through an enumerator (door knocker). Officials advise not to wait for an enumerator.
  • New Yorkers will receive the first Census mailing mid-March 2020 and the collection of data will end July 2020.
  • If you skip 3 to 4 questions on the Census, your survey may not count.
  • It is a felony to instruct anyone to avoid filling out the census under Title 13.
  • For the first time, the Census recognizes same-sex households.
  • For the first time, the Census will give people the opportunity to separate race from ethnicity.


Sign in or become a Bklyner member to join the conversation.