Dismal Census Participation in NYC: Immigrant Communities Among the Least Counted

A 20-feet Census form was put up in New York's Times Square - Photo: Census Bureau.

A 20-feet Census form was put up in New York’s Times Square. (Photo: Census Bureau)

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems a little exasperated.

Only a little more than half of New Yorkers have returned their census forms, compared with an average 66% return rate for the country as a whole.

Speaking at a press conference last week, Bloomberg cited the dismal response rate for each neighborhood in the city, saying it could have terrible consequences. More than $25 billion dollars are at stake.

“For each person who is not counted in the census, the city loses about $3,000 in Federal aid every year, money that could be spent on services our communities all want and need,” said the Mayor.

New York has the highest percent of “hard-to-count” residents of any city in the nation, which puts the city at a disadvantage for federal funding and congressional representation.  In the 2000 Census, New York’s response rate was 55 percent, the lowest of any major US city.

The Census Bureau considers people “hard to count” who have the following criteria:

  • Being economically disadvantaged;
  • Being unattached or mobile, which includes renters and single men and women; and
  • Living in high density areas.

As of April 6th, only 42% of Brooklyn residents, and only 47% of Queens residents had returned their forms—two boroughs with high immigrant populations. As Fi2W has reported, immigrant communities face many barriers to census participation, including language barriers, fears of deportation, and mistrust of the government.

The information the Census Bureau collects is confidential and may not be used for immigration enforcement purposes, but many immigrants are still suspicious. This year, the Bureau has actively campaigned in immigrant communities in an effort to count them.  And Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano even wrote a letter to Nydia Velasquez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, saying though DHS could not ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to refrain from exercising its lawful authority, the Department was actively trying not to interfere with the Census Bureau’s efforts to get an accurate and thorough account of the U.S. population.

“We are committed to working with the Census Bureau to ensure our enforcement responsibilities do not interfere with this process,” Napolitano wrote.

But this little publicized letter hasn’t allayed the fears of many immigrants in New York. The Center for Urban Research (CUR) at the CUNY Graduate Center is analyzing the latest participation rates from the 2010 decennial census, and on their website, CUR pointed to New York City as a special case.

The city’s response rates don’t match up to its “hard to count” profile—they’re worse.

The mayor’s office attributes that to the city’s huge immigrant population—there are over 3 million foreign-born residents who speak over 200 languages.  Yet census forms are being only mailed in English and Spanish (though they are available by request in 4 more languages: Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Vietnamese and Russian).

It’s estimated that the city’s population has risen 4.8% in the last decade, with immigration a major factor in the increase.

Related Articles:

An Uphill Struggle to Count Korean Immigrants in the Census
Filipinos Divided Over Census According to Immigration Status
Groups in NY Join Forces to Count Russian Immigrants in the 2010 Census
Survey Shows Hispanic Immigrants Got the Census Message
Census Drives Hope in New York’s Chinese Immigrant Neighborhoods
Census Count Going Poorly in New York, Says City’s Immigrant Affairs Chief
No Count, No Funds: Minorities in Bushwick Suffer the Consequences of a Census Undercount

The Feet in Two Worlds project on the Census is made possible thanks to the generous support of the 2010 Census Outreach Initiative Fund at The New York Community Trust and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

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AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.