By Assemblywoman Mila Jasey
One year from now, every person of the United States will be asked to raise their hand to be counted in the 2020 Census.
This will be no small feat and a very important one. The head count will officially begin in April 2020 – exactly one year from now – and it’s critical that New Jersey avoids undercounting or other missteps that may cost us federal funding and representation.
In the last Census in 2010, New Jersey’s population growth was outpaced by states in the South and West, which resulted in New Jersey losing a representative in the House. The state’s delegation was brought down from 13 to 12, three fewer than 35 years ago. When the census count indicates a population decline, states can lose federal dollars from programs like Medicaid, Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which distribute funds based on the census. It also may have an impact on businesses that rely on demographic data from the census when deciding where to build stores, warehouses, offices or create jobs.
Jersey City officials kicked off its countdown to the start of the 2020 U.S. Census Monday morning.
Our state’s population growth may be slower than others, but if we don’t count everyone, we cannot ensure accuracy and fairness in our population count; and it appears our last census count may have left people out. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that it missed counting 31,000 New Jersey residents in 2010. That’s only an estimate. I can’t help but wonder if more people weren’t counted. Would the 2010 census have produced a different outcome for New Jersey if they had been?
The state has nearly 500 geographic areas census officials deem “hard to count,” where fewer than 73 percent of people answered the 2010 census. Many are in areas with high populations of African Americans, Hispanics and Asians, and in cities like Newark, Camden and Paterson, as well as many smaller, primarily urban communities. Undocumented residents and those who legally immigrated here are also difficult to count, because many fear questions about their citizenship if they participate in the Census. Many of these residents do not know that all data collected is confidential under federal law.
Our youngest residents are among the most difficult to count. The Census Bureau estimates 5 percent of children under age 5 weren’t counted in the 2010 census. Newborn babies, children who split time between two households or live in a low-income community can be hard for census workers to find. The only way to ensure our children are counted is to be sure their parents or caregivers are ready for the census once it comes.
We can’t risk another undercount. We need as many voices as possible advocating for New Jersey in Congress, and as much funding as we can get for federal programs serving our most vulnerable.
With one year left before the census, New Jersey has already taken steps to ensure 100 percent participation in 2020.
If we miss one person, we lose thousands of dollars in funding. We also lose representation.
The bipartisan Complete Count Commission, made up of elected officials and community and business leaders, will develop strategies to target hard-to-count areas and ensure an accurate count of the state’s population. The commission will reach out to minority groups, legal immigrants and undocumented residents, in particular, to raise awareness of the census.
Communities across the state have also formed their own Complete Count Committees to assist the statewide commission. Cities like Newark are making strides to spread the word about the census through community-based events and public awareness campaigns.
These efforts will help New Jersey residents understand how to respond – whether by mail, phone or online – when they are contacted by the Census Bureau next year, and how crucial their participation will be to our state’s future.
The Census is only taken every 10 years, so this is our one chance this decade to get it right. Every New Jerseyan deserves to be counted. Let us all start raising our hands.
Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey represents New Jersey’s 27th district, spanning parts of Essex and Morris counties, in the General Assembly. She sponsored a law (A-4208) creating the Complete Count Commission.