What is Census 2020 & Why Does It Matter for New Jersey?
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 FY2015, the state received $17.56 billion dollars in federal grants from these 16 programs alone,1 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% in Newark, 50% in Irvington, 55% in Orange, 55% in Atlantic City, 56% in New Brunswick, 59% in Trenton, 60% in Paterson, and 61% in Camden.2These communities are among those labeledHard-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. Hard-to-count (HTC) communities will face new challenges exacerbated by limited internet access.3 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 andan 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% in 2010 from 76% 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. 4Targeted and strategic outreach will be required to achieve an accurate