In the 2020 Census, LI’s best chance to make it count

Countdown: The U.S. Census Bureau is gearing up for its big 2020 tally of roughly 333.5 million Americans, which will have major socioeconomic ramifications.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A coalition of Long Island lawmakers and activists is spreading the word about the 2020 Census – and its critical importance to the Island’s economic future.

The Health and Welfare Council of Long Island has joined with the Office of the Nassau County Comptroller to create the Long Island Counts 2020 Census FAQ Report, a 12-page primer on the forthcoming April 2020 national census – the 24th in U.S. history and the last for the next decade, giving it some serious socioeconomic heft.

That’s the big picture behind the report and the collaboration, which aims to educate Long Islanders about the weight of next year’s survey – and encourage those who are less likely to participate to stand up and be counted.

Dubbing the census “the building block for everything we care about on Long Island,” HWCLI President and CEO Rebecca Sanin said nothing less than the regional quality of life was at stake.

“Census data is used to determine how much funding this region receives for hospitals, schools, roads and so much more,” Sanin told Innovate LI. “We’re going to live with the consequences of the 2020 Census for the next 10 years.”

Even with so much on the line, the risk for an undercount is high – especially high on Long Island in this political environment, according to Sanin, who lamented “the shifting immigration policies of our country” and a national “climate of fear.”

“A lot of people are going to be reluctant to complete the census,” she noted. “The national anti-immigration sentiment is one of the biggest barriers to an accurate count.”

Rebecca Sanin: Count her in.

And with everything from infrastructure investments to Congressional representation on the table – based on population density, New York appears likely to lose two Congressional seats – “an undercount would undermine our voices,” Sanin added.

Innovations in the way the U.S. Census Bureau will conduct its count of the 333.5 million people estimated to be living in this country – including a new online response option – may only add to that pushback.

Sanin cited “concerns about the online effort because of cybersecurity,” and said “we know there will be efforts to scam people, especially senior citizens.”

Alerting seniors and others to red flags is a good start – the 2020 Census includes only a handful of simple questions and the Census Bureau “will never ask for your PIN number, your mother’s maiden name or your Social Security number,” Sanin noted.

Neither will it ask about the status of the respondent’s citizenship, to the chagrin of President Donald Trump.

But with those other political and security concerns in mind, Sanin stressed the importance of reminding on-the-fence respondents that old-school methods – including handwritten and telephone responses – are still in play.

“We want to let people know they can do this on the telephone and speak in their native language,” she said, noting the Census Bureau’s 13 language options, including English. “And they can always do it by (U.S.) mail.”

All this and more is featured in Long Island Counts, a colorful and easy-to-follow synopsis of the forthcoming census and its decade-long significance. Naming Nassau and Suffolk counties among the “hardest to count” in all of New York State, the report is packed with key dates, survey methods, regional case studies, a breakdown of federal programs funded by census data and more, all designed to pump up participation.

With the release of the report, Sanin et al are just kicking their 2020 Census promotions into gear. Noting coordinated efforts with both Long Island county executives, the HWCLI honcho stated a goal of “turning every entity and every single Long Islander into a census ambassador,” and said “ambassador toolkits” – including instructions and access to an online participation pledge, complete with emailed reminders – are coming soon to regional libraries and hospitals.

One goal, Sanin added, is to make sure everyone who will complete the 2020 Census without resistance “does so first, so we can spend the rest of the time increasing the completion rate.”

To that end, the HWCLI will be busiest once Census Day – April 1, 2020 – rolls around. As of that date, every household in the country will have been notified of the census and required by law to respond, with the Census Bureau slated to accept responses through August.

While it does, the bureau will post daily “census tract” updates on completion rates – real-time “strategic targeting” data that will show Sanin and friends where to focus their get-out-the-count efforts.

“We’ll know which neighborhoods have high [completion rates] and which are low, so we can concentrate where they’re low,” she said. “We’ll be able to go to people and say, ‘If you have a 2-year-old that you don’t count, that child won’t get funding until she’s done with elementary school.’

“It’s really important that we have an accurate count,” Sanin added. “Everybody counts – especially at a time when people are feeling invisible.”