Being Counted Matters and It’s Easier Than You May Believe
By D. Kevin McNeir
New Jersey Urban News
A series of YouTube public service announcements [PSA] currently airing which target residents in the state of New Jersey feature young children sharing messages like, “The census is coming,” “Count me,” or “Count us.”
Their meaning, one might say, remains “elementary.” In other words, far too often, children are not counted. In fact, nationwide, the last census missed nearly 2 million children under age five – an oversight or mistake that especially hurts children for the next 10 years.
The census informs funding decisions for roads and hospitals. But it also provides things that children (or their parents and caregivers) need: libraries, schools, childcare programs and more. That’s why it’s imperative that you count everyone in your home, including all children, in the 2020 Census.
As each of the PSA’s conclude: Make sure New Jersey counts in 2020 (see: www.Census2020NJ.org) for more information.
What You Need to Know about the Census
In a recent webinar presented in collaboration with Census2020NJ.org and Advocates for Children of New Jersey [ACNJ], ACNJ’s Kids Count Coordinator Alana Vega and Policy Counsel Peter Chen spoke with a group of journalists representing ethnic media outlets in the Garden State to discuss the rubrics of the census process, the false conceptions surrounding it and its overall importance.
However, as they said, their primary goal, as members of the independent, non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group has long espoused, remains working to put children’s needs first. Currently that includes pulling out all the stops to ensure that all children living in New Jersey are counted in the 2020 Census.
So, what do you need to know?
1.) The census is easy, safe, confidential (all responses are protected by federal law) and important and can be completed at www.2020Census.gov.
2.) While the self-response period began March 12, households can still respond three ways: online, by phone or by mail.
3.) While only English or Spanish are available in paper form, there are 12 other languages supported for phone or mail options.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has delayed many census-related, in-person outreach activities. In fact, many organizations have already switched to digital outreach strategies including livestreams and twitter chats. Still, the challenge remains reaching many of the hardest to count [HTC] populations who will inevitably be missed by digitally-based strategies.
But all is not lost as local media in New Jersey have joined the effort to get everyone counted, bridging the digital divide especially through print, radio and television.
In New Jersey, the Department of State continues to issue weekly messaging themes first launched during the week of April 20 that may be of interest to residents and can be found in several ways including: #NJCensus2020; or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau has plans for its Digital Weekend, May 1-3 during which there will be even more useful information accessible via the standard social media platforms.
Census data ensures that New Jersey will receive its fair share of funding for programs, many of which are critically needed during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Why is Your Participation in the Census Important?
The census is more than just a head count as its results will impact every U.S. state and territory, including New Jersey, for the next 10 years. Consider that in the last census, response outcomes led to more than $45 billion (FY17) in federal funds within New Jersey annually that have supported vital programs and services which include Medicaid, Head Start, schools, hospitals and roads.
The census also helps to determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives, New Jersey’s number of votes in the Electoral College and the state’s voting district boundaries.
Only basic information is asked on the census about your household and pertains to each household member: name, age/date of birth, gender, racial/ethnic background and relationship to the head of the household. You will also be asked if the household is one in which residents own or rent their current living space.
The census will never ask for: social security #s, money or donations, bank/credit information or anything on behalf of a political party.
But there are plenty of attempts to glean information that the federal government deems to be confidential and which is therefore illegal to pursue and might be used to employ scams, so beware. If you suspect any attempts at scams, you should call the Census Bureau, 800-923-8282.
As mentioned early, there are over a dozen languages in which people can respond to the census, either online or by phone including: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.
As for who counts and who should be counted, the rule of thumb is to count people where they live or reside most of the time. If you find it difficult to follow this rule or understand its nuances, individuals should be counted where they were living on April 1, 2020.
For those who are currently enrolled and attending college, they should be counted at their school. Those who, while currently at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were previously residing on campus, their university is responsible for counting those students. For those who were living off-campus, they will need to submit their own response to the census.
While many operations have either been extended or postponed due to stay-at-home orders which may still be in place, field offices are tentatively slated to be reactivated June 1, 2020 with non-response outreach to follow beginning Aug. 11, 2020.
What About Hard to Count [HTC] Populations?
Even in the best of times and under normal conditions, it remains a real challenge to complete HTC populations throughout the U.S.; New Jersey is no different.
A hard-to-count population refers to areas where a low percentage of households returned their 2020 Census forms. Some populations are harder to count than others: children under five, people of color (African American, Latinx, Asian American), non-English speakers, immigrants and renters.
Additionally, there are identified barriers that often prevent a complete count in households: the household speaks a language other than English; individuals or families live in a “complex household;” the address was not listed, i.e., multi-unit buildings; and individuals were not included on their household form.
As of April 20, 2020, New Jersey’s response rate ranked in the middle of the pack among states. Nationally, the response rate stood at 51.1 percent while New Jersey’s response rate was 52.4 percent.
Other trends for HTC communities include: lower response rates for tracts with high concentrations of non-Hispanic Black populations or Hispanic populations (of any race). In addition, a growing gap continues in response rates between “internet first” and “internet choice” responders. Tracts in the bottom 20 percent of response rates saw growing concentrations of renters, households with limited English proficiency and households without internet subscriptions.
New Jersey residents with questions about the census or who experience problems filling out the form, may wish to use the following national, non-profit hotlines: 888-COUNT20; 877-ELCENSO; 844-2020-API; or 833-3DDOUNI, the later three targeting those who speak Spanish, Asian languages or Arabic, respectively.