November 2, 2018. On Monday the Fiscal Policy Institute joined members of the New York Counts 2020 coalition in front of Federal Hall to call on the governor and the state legislators to include $40 million in the state budget to fund community-based organizations working on maximizing participation in the 2020 census.

Congressmember Jerry Nadler spoke powerfully about the reasons this census count will be especially challenging, with a federal government creating barriers to participation. Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, spoke about the vital importance of an accurate count to businesses and to government planning.  Rachel Bloom, Director of Public Policy and Programs at Citizens Union and Pharein Griffith, Chair of Civic Engagement for the New York Branch of the NAACP both spoke about upcoming advocacy projects that they have organized on behalf of the New York Counts 2020 coalition. Diana López, an organizer with Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson spoke about the plans that her organization has to reach out the hard to count populations that they serve. Murad Awawdeh, Vice President of Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition led the press conference introducing speakers and making the case for state spending on CBO’s. And, representing the Fiscal Policy Institute, I had a chance to talk about our new report estimating what robust community-based outreach around the 2020 census would cost—$40 million statewide.

Community organizations from around the state are members of the New York Counts 2020 coalition. These organizations are very familiar with the labor-intensive work that the state calls upon them to do every 10 years to help ensure that New Yorkers participate in the Census and that they are accurately counted. These groups are trusted voices in their communities who are able to convince people to share sensitive data with the government.

On April 1st, 2020, the Census Bureau will conduct the decennial count that is mandated by the United States Constitution. This is will be the first time that the Census Bureau asks residents to fill out the Census questionnaire online, raising issues about broadband access as well as comfort level with computers. There may be a controversial question added about the citizenship status of immigrants. And, a number of people are feeling hesitant about giving private information to the federal government. Maximizing participation in the Census has always been a challenging task.  But this year will be different. In the current political climate, advocates are already concerned that people will not be as willing to share their data on the Census questionnaire in 2020.

The report the Fiscal Policy Institute released at the event estimates how much funding community-based organizations would need to conduct census outreach. We did this, in essence, by showing the number of people who are hard to count, then multiplying that number by the per-person cost of reaching hard-to-count populations.

There is a standard way of thinking about who is hard to count. After the Census Bureau conducts its headcount of the nation, it conducts an analysis that reports how many people did not mail back their questionnaires, and thus needed follow-up interviews and outreach to insure that they, or at least most of them, eventually fill out their Census forms. In 2010 24 percent of New Yorkers did not return their census form by mail. Those who did not mail back their forms, the hard to count, they include disproportionate numbers of:

  • People of color of color
  • Immigrants
  • Native Americans
  • people who live in low income households in both rural and urban areas
  • Homeless people
  • Parents of children under 5

This year we expect the hard to count to also include people without internet access since it’s the first year that the census will be available online.

To give us the per-person cost for outreach, the Fiscal Policy Institute surveyed 32 organizations from all regions of the state.  Our report includes three levels of outreach, derived from the averages of what these 32 groups told us. The report recommends basic outreach to all “hard to count” groups in the state at $2 per person, moderate outreach to 10 percent of the hard to reach at $25 per person, and intensive outreach to five percent of the hard to reach at $75 per person. We found that with $40 million dollars community organizations in every corner of the state would be able to fund media campaigns, door to door canvasing, community forms, and so many other projects to engage the hard to count populations in their communities.

Every New Yorker counts, and having the Census accurately count everyone who lives in our state must be a priority for our legislators and governor.


By: Shamier Settle