Guest op-ed: Why the Census matters

January 23, 2020 Editorial Staff
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By Councilmember Justin Brannan & Murad Awawdeh

By now, you’ve probably heard that there will be another Census in 2020. And while every Census is important, this one, in particular, has profound implications for the future of our community. It’s of utmost importance that every single one of us is counted this time.

Here’s why.

The Census helps determine how over $600 billion gets divided among states, localities, and families every year. Virtually every complaint that we’ve heard about the city is, in some way, tied to the Census, in particular, the overcrowding of our schools, the overloading of our infrastructure, services for our neighbors who need them, the poor performance of our subway and mass transportation systems, just to name a few.

City and state agencies that design our institutions and infrastructure rely heavily on data to determine who they need to build for, how many people will need critical services and how many classrooms we need for our children. When the data doesn’t represent reality, we end up with programs and services that are vastly ill-equipped to handle our city’s population. So, it is really no exaggeration to say that an undercount of the Census is at the root of many of our local problems.

Despite Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst all being incredibly engaged and active neighborhoods both in civics and politics, we have been woefully undercounted. In particular, it was estimated that last time around, Bay Ridge was undercounted by over 30 percent.

In addition, prior iterations of the Census didn’t accurately reflect the diversity of Bay Ridge — specifically, previous versions of the Census did not have an opportunity for our large Arab community to represent their racial identity, which led to underfunding of programs for language access, immigration service, and cultural programs, and meant our community lost out on significant funding.

New immigrants in our neighborhood were also wary of completing the Census, which contributed to this undercounting and led directly to the loss of critically needed resources.

Thankfully, the team behind the Census this year has focused in on our area, dedicating extra funding, staffing and strategy toward ensuring everyone gets counted. But that only works if all of our neighbors are responsive! 

By April 2020, every home will receive the questionnaire and will be able to fill out the Census by mail, by phone or online. In addition, Census workers will be out specifically focused on undercounted areas and populations who haven’t been captured in the past. So, if you do not fill out the Census, a field worker will knock on your door.

And you can help ensure everyone gets counted by letting your friends and neighbors know how important the Census is, and why a strong response to the Census ensures better services for us all. (And if you need a job, the Census is still hiring! It pays $25 an hour, and would be happy to have you!)

As advocates for our neighborhood, there is only so much we can do to secure necessary funding and improve services if the data doesn’t adequately reflect who (and how many) we are. You can help us in 2020 by making sure every single one of us is counted. 

Councilmember Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the New York City Council. Murad Awawdeh is the executive vice president of advocacy and strategy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

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