The 2020 Census, required by the constitution, is crucial in determining who gets power in the federal government, and not coincidentally, who gets money. Census numbers are used, among other things, to allocate resources to state governments. Currently, New Jersey gets about $22.7 billion every year.
And, as the Princeton Area Community Foundation points out, almost everything that businesses, nonprofits, funders, and local governments know about their communities comes from census data.
The PACF is hosting a workshop on the census — and how nonprofit groups can help ensure that everyone is counted — on Wednesday, July 17, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Cobblestone Creek Country Club in Lawrenceville. For more information, visit www.pacf.org/events. Speakers include Jeff Behler, regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau; Peter Chen, policy counsel for Advocates for Children of New Jersey; and Brian Lozano, lead organizer of Wind of the Spirit.
The event is moderated by Kiki Jamieson, president of the Fund for New Jersey, a philanthropic organization that makes grants to various New Jersey nonprofit groups.
The Fund for New Jersey is one of many nonprofits with a keen interest in making sure the census counts as many people as possible. In a policy paper, the fund outlined reasons for supporting a complete census:
What is Census 2020 and why does it matter for New Jersey? The census is a count of all United States residents required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years to determine Congressional districts. The census is an essential policy tool. The federal government depends on census data to allocate resources, state governments use census data to draw legislative districts and to direct spending, and academics, nonprofits, and businesses rely on census data to inform and direct their work. Almost everything we know about our population and our communities comes from information collected during the decennial census and its related surveys.
When New Jersey residents are not counted, the state loses funding and influence. For New Jersey allocations from 16 large federal assistance programs (including Medicaid, SNAP, housing vouchers, and education grants) are derived from the census count. In fiscal year 2015, the state received $17.56 billion dollars in federal grants from these 16 programs alone, an amount about half the size of the entire New Jersey state budget. Further, New Jersey lost a Congressional seat in 2013 after losing another in 1993. New Jersey now has 12 congressional districts, the lowest number since 1933, which limits the state’s impact on federal decisions.
How does the census work? The census form is a confidential household mail-in survey. But in the 2010 census, return rates for New Jersey’s cities were very low: 55 percent in Newark, 50 percent in Irvington, 55 percent in Orange, 55 percent in Atlantic City, 56 percent in New Brunswick, 59 percent in Trenton, 60 percent in Paterson, and 61 percent in Camden. These communities are among those labeled Hard-to-Count (HTC).
Census workers go door-to-door in HTC areas to try to count people who did not return a survey, but the workers’ only guide is the address list the Census Bureau has prepared. Some groups are more likely to be missed — especially immigrants, people of color, urban residents, children under 5, people living in multifamily housing, non-native English speakers, and people who are homeless. In contrast, wealthier white people are more likely to be double-counted.
Too many New Jerseyans go uncounted (more than 31,000 in the 2010 census). Their interests are not represented when policy decisions are made.
What are the census challenges in the U.S. and in New Jersey? Census 2020 will rely on digital submission of data, a new process that will require more personal follow-up. However, Congress has limited the Bureau to keep spending at or below the previous spending levels. HTC communities will face new challenges exacerbated by limited internet access. In addition, many experts worry about data privacy and the potential for census data to be used to target vulnerable communities. For example, there are proposals to include questions related to citizenship and immigration status, which would threaten the integrity of the census. The result would be a dangerously politicized census and an inaccurate count, both of which would skew any subsequent congressional and state redistricting and resource allocation.
Historically, New Jersey has made only minimal efforts to have its residents counted. The state’s 2010 effort was largely internal with no specific state budget allocation, and New Jersey’s overall mail-in rate for census questionnaires actually fell to 74 percent in 2010 from 76 percent in 2000. In contrast, states that invested in census 2010 saw increased response rates, which is a critical component of achieving a fair and full count.
Based on analysis of previous census participation rates, 2020 HTC areas in New Jersey will include Newark, Paterson, Trenton, Camden, Atlantic City, Jersey City, and other urban areas. Targeted and strategic outreach will be required to achieve an accurate count.
What leadership is required now from the state of New Jersey? Governor Murphy could be a champion for the census, leading the call for all residents of New Jersey to be counted in 2020. The administration should prioritize a complete count in 2020 and allocate appropriate state resources. Legislators should join the push for a complete and accurate count that will benefit the residents of their districts and the state as a whole.
Two essential steps are required. The state of New Jersey should form a Complete Count Commission that includes stakeholders from government as well as civic leaders who represent business, education, philanthropy, faith, civil rights, and nonprofit organizations. Further, the state should allocate funding to support a complete count in 2020. Following the example of California, which recently allocated $40 million, the State of New Jersey should target a sum based on $1 per resident — for a total of $9 million to be used over fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The funds would support outreach and communication (supplementing Census Bureau activities), with particular focus on HTC communities. The return on investment is likely to be high. For example, California estimates that its $2 million investment in community address canvassing alone will yield at least $100 million in annual federal contributions.
Further, the state of New Jersey should support sound federal policy that ensures census data are secure. For example, if Homeland Security threatens immigration enforcement based on census data, the state should support census protection including rapid legal responses. If immigrants are not counted among our population, New Jersey will lose.
How can we work together to improve the census count in New Jersey? Civic leaders in the state must join together to support a complete count in 2020. When all residents in New Jersey are counted, the state will benefit. A priority will be cultivating partnerships across sectors to include county and local elected officials, business leaders, faith leaders, non-profit organizations, and community-based groups, to convey that the census is about counting everybody.
Primary outreach focus should be on HTC communities. Local Complete Count Committees should be established in HTC areas. Local leaders need to be supported with data analysis and mapping to understand HTC target areas; partners that represent the diversity of the community; strategic, community-specific messaging delivered via traditional and social media; training and jobs for local people to help complete the count; and creation of “Get Counted” assistance centers at neighborhood sites such as public libraries and community centers.
For HTC populations that are difficult to geographically pinpoint (such as children under 5, elderly people, and people who are homeless), alternate outreach strategies must be developed in partnership with social service and advocacy organizations.
Across New Jersey, it will be important to motivate the public to participate (via effective marketing including locally appropriate languages and ethnic media). Technology assistance will be needed to help people access the internet.
What difference can this make? At a minimum, a more complete count can generate more federal resources and more influence for New Jersey. In 2010, states that invested in census outreach in HTC areas increased the number of responses compared with the previous census, which benefited all state residents. Further, census work supports democracy by increasing civic engagement and public awareness. We believe now is the time to make a meaningful impact in New Jersey by leading the effort for a complete count in census 2020.
To join the effort, contact Kiki Jamieson.