The Undercounted Count For Much

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On hand for the recent Census 2020 job fair at the Hempstead Public Library were, from left, Bruce Massie, the library’s Job Information Center coordinator, Legislator Siela A. Bynoe and Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman. (Photo by Wendy Wagnac)

Many critical matters depend on getting an accurate census of the U.S. population. Mandated by Section 2 of Article 1 of our governing document, the census determines the all important apportionment in the House of Representatives, and an estimated $675 billion annually in federal funds to local communities.

Census 2020 will take a “snapshot” of the nation on April 1, 2020, and already, the machinery of the federal government is gearing up to put in a place an operation to get as accurate a figure as possible in a nation of 330 million-plus people. The goal, according to the Census Bureau, is to “Count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.”

Nationwide, 79.3 percent of households that received a 2010 Census mail questionnaire completed it and mailed it back. The vast temporary workforce is put in place to get the information from the millions of non-responding households. Enumerators will go out into the community and do follow-ups.

One recent Saturday, Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman and Legislator Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) sponsored a census job fair at the Hempstead Public Library to begin the process of filling the estimated 6,000 or more positions needed in Nassau County to carry out the census.

In a press release announcing the job fair, it was “estimated that millions of minorities will be undercounted in the 2020 Census. This miscount could mean that many minority communities won’t receive an accurate level of funding or resources generated in those areas. In a nationwide study, African Americans and Latin Americans are individuals identified as being undercounted by 3.68 percent.”

The release went on to note, “Our representatives that serve some of Nassau’s largest majority-minority communities are pushing very hard to ensure that these communities are accurately counted in the upcoming census.

This Census Bureau interactive map shows the greater Westbury area. Colors correspond to the Census-determined response rate. The darker the numbers, the lower the response rate expected from households.

Monique Powell of Hempstead emphasized the importance of an accurate count for crucial aid to individuals through programs such as WIC and SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Section 8 housing assistance. She made it personal, relating how when she was laid off from her teaching position she applied for WIC (a program that aids women and children and infants with supplemental nutrition and health care) she was turned down because the federal funding to the area had run out.

Powell named Westbury among the areas that the federal government labeled as “hard to count” (Hempstead, Uniondale, Roosevelt and Elmont were some of the others in Nassau).
“Those are the areas where the residents do not fill out the census form,” Powell noted. “But ironically, those are the areas that need the most support and the most funding. That’s a problem. We will not get aid. We will not get help because we do not report.”

“The census is absolutely critical for Long Island and Nassau County,” Schnirman told The Westbury Times, also mentioning the funding for services and programs. “One of the ways to make sure that people understand that it’s okay to stand up and be counted in the census is that you have folks going door-to-door, knocking on their doors and explaining to [their neighbors] how it all works. It’s important that it’s neighbor-to-neighbor, people that they can trust, people they know.”

Schnirman noted that the jobs paid well, between $17 and $23 an hour, with supervisory-level personnel getting as much as $30/hour.

“We want to make sure that people know that these jobs are available so we’re doing pop-up job fairs like these in communities around the county,” Schnirman said. “The federal government will start the hiring soon so that there’ll be plenty of time for training and preparation,”

“Why is it difficult to count?” Schnirman was asked.

“You have a whole host of reasons,” he responded. “This is a very diverse community with people not used to having their door knocked on. They are understandably suspicious of that and particularly of the climate that we’re in. People feel uneasy.”

Both Powell and Schnirman said that people could also respond via phone and email. Such options were not available in the past.

Bynoe told The Times that she plans a similar job fair in Westbury as well. Asked about the “pop-up” nature of the fairs, which are announced in the morning, she responded, “It has been my experience that traditional job fairs are not as effective at getting people excited about finding employment. Our hope for this pop-up was to generate buzz in the community about the 2020 Census while creating an immersive working experience.”

Bynoe echoed Schnirman and Powell in emphasizing the idea of people from the community going out to their neighbors.

She acknowledged that areas such as Westbury were problematical, stating, “We have to dispel the notion that the purpose of this count is to be clandestine in government operations. That it’s really for the purpose of ensuring that the communities receive the proper resources and funding. I think that part of that is having relatable enumerators, people who are from the community. I believe that that will help dispel some of the distrust that is kind of brewing right here in our country and in our communities.”

Asked specifically about Westbury, Bynoe replied, “There are pockets within our village that make it a little challenging to go to a door and be able to knock and get the information they need to count the household appropriately. Because we do have an influx of immigrants in the community. I think that’s part of it.”

Asked for comment, Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro responded, “I assume anecdotally (without any independent knowledge) that if Westbury is deemed to be an ‘undercounted community’ it is because, including all of New Cassel, the greater Westbury area has a larger than average Latino population that I believe has historically been undercounted. That results in a loss of federal aid to our community that further exacerbates the lack of resources and unequal treatment that the community has experienced in the past (e.g., unaccompanied child placement, etc.) I would urge all residents (documented and undocumented) to be counted, so that our community is not shortchanged in all the areas where population counts are important.”

For information about applying for a job, visit 2020census.gov/en/jobs.

To comment, email frizzo@antonmediagroup.com.

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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