2020 Census Outreach Focuses on Brooklyn Communities with the Lowest Response Rates via New Data Map

Natasha Ishak

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Cities and counties across the country are racing to prepare residents for the 2020 census. One of the most helpful preparation tools has been using a data map to track which neighborhoods will likely be difficult to count based on past census information.

The Hard to Count 2020 Census Map, created by the City University of New York’s Mapping Service, is an interactive online map that shows local areas that are considered “hard to count communities”—neighborhoods where census participation rates are the lowest. This number is mainly based on the self-response mail-in rates to the census, which is considered the most accurate reflection of census participation.

The map was mainly designed as a census outreach resource for local agencies, but it is open and free to use by the public. Anyone can find out how their neighborhood performed in the past census using the map; simply zoom in any area in the U.S. based on the area tract, local address, legislative or congressional district, and ZIP code.

For example, the map shows that in tract 0287.00 in Kings County, NY, where Bushwick Daily is based, the census self-response rate was only 64.6 percent. That response rate is from a population total of 2,781 people living in 1,180 households in the area.

Other pertinent information is broken down by the map as well. The map reflects that 31.3 percent of households in this Bushwick tract had either no home internet subscription or dial up-only.

This 2020 census will be the first census participants can fill out the survey online, so internet access would make a big difference in accessibility for certain neighborhoods. To that end, the map also includes information on public libraries where internet access is available.

Screenshot of CUNY’s Hard to Count 2020 Cencus map.

Some neighborhoods in Brooklyn have the lowest census response rates in the country, and this disparity is clearly reflected in the Hard to Count map. If we pan out to view the larger Brooklyn borough, the map shows that 80 percent of the borough’s population lives in hard to count census tracts, and just over 21 percent of Brooklyn’s households have poor internet access.

The map currently reflects data from the 2010 census, but will be updated as soon as the U.S. Census Bureau begins to release the number of census responses that they receive in April 2020. One of the biggest challenges that the mapping initiative faces is the different scope of needs that each particular community might have and making that information as easy to use as possible.

“The map is nationwide in scope. So there might be local information that we don’t have that some local groups will find beneficial in one place but not in another place. So we had to try to balance that,” CUNY Mapping Service Director Steven Romaleski said during a phone call with Bushwick Daily.

Local organizations under the New York Counts 2020 Coalition have already started using the CUNY map, including the Brooklyn Complete Count Committee, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Romalewski stresses the importance of having local groups involved in any census participation outreach to the communities.

“It’s really important for local trusted voices to get the word out about the importance of the census,” Romalewski said. “You might not necessarily pay attention to something that the New York City government tells you to do. However, if your local mosque, or church, or synagogue, or bodega down the block… if they have information that you see that says it’s really important for us—for you—to fill out the census… you might listen to that a bit more.”

Broooklyn. Courtesy of Pixabay.

The city has already caught on to this important tidbit so they will also be working with community-based organizations in New York City’s upcoming census campaign.

The Hard to Count map also provides summaries of the most vulnerable demographics that are at-risk for being undercounted, including people of color, low-income populations, people with limited English proficiency, and people living in multi-family housing.

According to Romalewski, the response from local agencies for the 2020 census has been a lot different compared to the previous census.

“I think that was partly because people didn’t think they needed to be aware of the census early on. For the 2020 census, organizations looked back at 2010 and realized, you know what, we should start getting involved earlier,” Romalewski said. “Because of the political climate and the controversy over whether there will be a citizenship question on the census, the controversy over the government shutdown and funding, projects like this are on people’s minds a lot earlier, and it’s really great.”

Local bodies have apparently become proactive rather than reactive regarding census preparations. Earlier this week, the State Legislature proposed $20 million in funds to be used for 2020 Census preparations.

Cover image courtesy of Pixabay.

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