The 2020 Census: Why it Matters, and How We Can Ensure an Accurate Count | The New York Community Trust
September 14, 2018   |   By The New York Community Trust
The 2020 Census: Why it Matters, and How We Can Ensure an Accurate Count


New York City at night shot from above.

By Trust Program Officers Patricia A. Swann and Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones

If you’ve sent a child to public school, hopped in a ride-share car, or flown out of an airport, you’ve benefited from census data. Federal and state governments use the data to allocate money, and local governments and school districts depend on the numbers to determine services.

The census population count measures migration in and out of cities, determining where public hospitals, schools, and highways are built. Funding that helps people get food stamps, housing subsidies, and other aid is based on this data. Businesses rely on the demographic information to find customers and workers.

New York State receives $53 billion a year in federal funding from 16 programs, all of which include population data as part of their formulas. These dollars provide valuable services, including food and health programs, highway construction, and Head Start. In 2010, 65,000 people were not counted in northwest Queens and southern Brooklyn alone, and many upstate counties were likely under-counted as well, resulting in fewer federal resources.

In 2017, New York State paid $40.9 billion more in federal taxes than it received in benefits—the largest deficit of its kind in the nation. A more accurate census count would help close that gap.

Perhaps most important, the census will help determine our voice in Washington for the next decade. New York State is projected to lose one of its 27 Congressional seats by 2022, and risks losing another if New Yorkers are under-counted again.


Nonpartisan experts agree that getting an accurate count in 2020 will be extraordinarily difficult because of data security fears and government intrusion, along with a national political climate that makes immigrants afraid to be counted. In addition, budget cuts at the Census Bureau will likely result in fewer people available to follow-up with households that fail to respond initially, putting more people at risk of going uncounted.


FEAR AND MISTRUST: In a city where 60% of residents are immigrants or children of immigrants, and ICE has stepped up enforcement, fear may be the biggest hurdle. Even immigrant families who are longtime residents may not respond. Also, the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced plans to add a citizenship question to the census. Although this data is protected under privacy laws, this provides little assurance to immigrants who worry about deportation.

DIGITAL DIVIDE: The 2020 census will be the first taken mainly online. But access to, or familiarity with, computers is not always a given in poorer neighborhoods, for the elderly, and among English language learners.

HARD TO COUNT: Almost 40 percent of New Yorkers live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods. In 2010, more than a quarter of residents in these areas did not complete the forms.Tens of thousands of homeless adults across the state, migrant workers, families living in shelters, and others lacking permanent home addresses are under-counted. Children under age 5 are the largest under-counted group because the adult filling out the form doesn’t always understand that every person in the household should be listed.


COMMUNITY OUTREACH: With our funding, an organizer helped others properly fill out the census in 2010.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH: With our funding, an organizer helped others properly fill out the census in 2010.

We took the census seriously 10 years ago, and developed a successful approach to ensuring New York gets a more accurate count.

We increased the participation rate in New York by joining with other foundations to distribute more than $900,000 to dozens of trusted and effective grassroots groups doing outreach in many languages in the hardest-to-count neighborhoods across the City, Long Island, and Westchester.

Building on that work, we recently created the New York State Census Equity Fund, and have begun to make grants and build partnerships.

If past is prologue, we are confident that targeted funding now to trusted community organizations that can effectively reach constituents will help ensure the 2020 census is fair and accurate. We hope you will join us.


  1. Give by credit card: Indicate that you’d like to support the Census Fund.
  2. Write a check to Community Funds, Inc., 909 Third Avenue, 22nd Floor, New York, NY 10022, with ‘Census Fund’ in the subject line.
  3. Contact Raymond Salibur to give appreciated stock, securities, or IRA required minimum distributions.
  4. If you have a fund with us, you can also look for the Annual Fund tab on MyNYCT and select 2020 Census, or contact Gay Young, and she’ll transfer a gift from your fund.
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