With less than two months to go until the count is over, New York City has a self-response rate of just under 55 percent. In Queens, the rate is also under 55 percent, and Brooklyn’s rate is at a paltry 52 percent.
According to city officials, if New York continues this undercount, the state stands to lose two congressional seats, meaning less power and representation in Congress.
There’s also the matter of $1.5 trillion in federal government funds for schools, affordable housing, senior centers, education and health care programs in the balance.
Conducting a complete and accurate count is hard enough as it is, but this year, the Census Bureau faces two distinct challenges: COVID-19 and President Donald Trump.
Due to the pandemic, most of the deadlines were pushed back. Census takers who have just started going door-to-door knocking on the homes of those who have not filled out the census have to take extra precautions with the virus still around.
Then there’s this administration, which has repeatedly tried to undermine the census by discouraging participation from the most vulnerable.
In 2018, the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, tried to add a citizenship question to the form, which would have dissuaded many immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, from participating. The attempt was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court.
In late July, the Trump adminstration released a memo calling for undocumented immigrants to be excluded from the “apportionment base” after the census, meaning they would not count when allotting representation in Congress.
Earlier this month, the administration pushed to shorten door-to-door outreach by one month, ending it on September 30 rather than October 30. That would lead to a less-than-accurate count, especially in cities like New York.
A lawsuit is already underway to stop the Trump administration from carrying out either of these actions, which are clearly designed to sow fear and create an undercount.
In order to achieve the most complete count possible, we must all take an active role in making sure everyone gets the message.
Some neighborhoods have self-response rates as low as 30 percent. Though there is a confluence of factors that lead to that result, there’s still time to change it.
In the next few weeks, everyone should not only fill out the census online, by phone or mail, but insist that their neighbors, friends and family members do the same. Let’s meet the laudable goal of having a complete count.