New York’s Census Count: Why and Where it Matters

Christina Knight | March 12, 2020

Some might think that the U.S. Census is a mere headcount of residents – a population count – but this federal government survey has serious and long-lasting financial and political implications for New York and every state. Taking place only once every 10 years, the Census population count determines a state’s number of representatives in the U.S. Congress, the number of electoral votes it gets, and the federal funding a state receives for hundreds of social programs that benefit the most disadvantaged in society, from infants to the elderly.

Outlined here are the challenges to a full count in the New York City area, and what New Yorkers stand to gain or lose in this Census count. Even if you don’t need convincing to submit your Census survey – which will arrive in the mail between March 12 and 20 – the City and State are relying on New Yorkers to encourage and even help their neighbors respond to the survey as well.

An in-depth source for many of the facts and figures below is the report published by the New York State Complete Count Commission, published in October 2019. For a timeline of the 2020 Census and highlights of what to expect on it, see our post, The Census 2020: When, How and What’s New.

What’s at Stake

The Census “is the single most important issue affecting the city’s future,” New York City’s Census Director, Julie Menin, explained in her appearance on MetroFocus on March 9 (see segment, below).

The Census count of New Yorkers determines New York State and New York City’s share of $650 billion dollars of federal funding each year, for the next 10 years. That funding goes to the neediest New Yorkers through more than 200 services, including Head Start, SNAP, WIC, job training programs, and senior centers, to name a few. An example of benefits was explained at a census forum held by New York Representative Paul Tonko: a school may have 100 students, but if only 75 are counted, the school must pay for 100 while receiving federal funding for only 75.

Undercounts in New York

Urban areas of New York and rural Census tracts have some of the highest rates of undercount in the country. New York State has invested 20 million to drum up Census awareness in 2020, particularly for 10 populations that are at greater risk of not being counted: renters; those over 65; single-parents; children under five years old; Black households; Hispanic households; the foreign born; those who speak limited English; those who lack internet access; those with low-income.

Of these 10 at-risk populations, New York City holds the highest percentage for all except those over 65 and those without internet access. People over 65 have not been undercounted in the past, but because 2020 is the first time a Census questionnaire can be submitted online, a concern is whether that platform could pose problems for those less technologically savvy.

New York City

The Brooklyn Book Festival.

Crowds at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 2018.

In 2010, New York City had a mere 62 percent Census self-response rate compared to the nationwide rate of 75.8 percent. According to the New York State Census commission, if the same percentage of New York City households respond in 2020, it is likely that roughly 2,478,545 people in New York City will not be counted in the self-response phase that ends in April.

Starting in May, Census workers will follow up in person to try and get responses from homes that haven’t answered, and can even interview a neighbor. But they can not reach everyone. That’s why this year New York City has invested 40 million dollars to work with community groups, libraries, faith-based organizations and 245 neighborhood Neighborhood Organizing Census Committee (NOCC) to encourage responses (self-reporting).

The NOCCs help get the word out to local NYC communities, in as many languages as are spoken in New York. The City hopes to see a big increase in self response from Brooklyn, which in 2010 was just 55.5 percent, the lowest of all the boroughs.

The Census tracts with the lowest reporting rates in New York were in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach (43.8%), Queen’s south Richmond Hill (45.4%), and the Bronx’s Eastchester Heights (53%).

Long Island

The total population of Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk Counties) is 2,860,664 people who live in 933,464 households. If the same percentage of households from the 2010 Census respond this year, roughly 676,193 people might not be counted in the self-response phase. Both Nassau County and Suffolk County offer residents Census 2020 tips.

Long Island has the state’s second largest immigrant population (18.6%) and the second highest percentage of householders aged 65 or older (28%). Of the 18.6 percent of the population born outside U.S, approximately 33 percent came to the U.S. since 2000.

Low-reporting Census tracts in Suffolk County in 2010 were the hamlets of Wyandanch (54%) and North Amityville (59%).

Mid-Hudson Region

Aerial of Walkway Over the Hudson.

Aerial view of Walkway Over the Hudson.

The Mid-Hudson region covers Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties. The total population of the region is 2,329,583 people living in 811,321 households. If the same percentage of households from the 2010 Census respond, it is likely that roughly 560,910 people in the Mid-Hudson region will not be counted in the self-response phase of the 2020 Census.

The lowest 2010 response rates were Census tracts in the Nodine Hill neighborhood in the city of Yonkers (44.9%), in the West Mount Vernon neighborhood in the city of Mount Vernon (48.4%), and the downtown area of Poughkeepsie (50.4%).

Political Representation

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

New York is the fourth most populous state (19,453,561) and between 2018 and 2019, lost .4% of its population (76,790), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

House of Representatives

The U.S. House of Representatives has a fixed number of representatives: 435. How many seats each state receives there is based on apportionment, which is a combination of the state’s Census population count and overseas federal employees (and dependents) who list the state as their home state.

After the apportionment based on the 2010 Census, the average number of people per representative in the House was 710,767. Based on this average and projections drawn from the 2010 undercount in New York City, Long Island, and the Mid-Hudson region alone, New York missed out on five representative seats it could otherwise have had in a full count.

New York, which now has 27 representatives, is on-track to lose one seat in the House of Representatives; Politico gives a useful breakdown and graphics illustrating states that will increase or lose members.

Electoral Votes

The Census apportionment also determines how many electoral votes a state gets in the presidential election. Electoral votes are different from the popular vote, and are what ultimately elect the U.S. president. The number of electoral votes are equal to a state’s Senators in Congress (always two) plus its number of House Representatives. New York currently has 29 votes. (Note: the states electors who cast those votes are not the senators and representatives, and are chosen by each state’s legislature.)

Official 2020 Site

For answers to many questions about how to answer the Census questionnaire, and how it is beneficial to communities, see the government’s official 2020 Census site.