Pete’s Perspectives: Mitigating a Census Undercount in CNY

The Community Foundation is committed to using data to measure where we are and where we want to go. We foster opportunities for those that use local population data, such as staff members within nonprofits, school districts and governments, to share what they know and what they have learned about trends and issues both with each other and with the public. Data is key to helping us figure out what is working, and what is not, so that we can prioritize our grants and community investments accordingly. The creation of CNYVitals, our community indicators website, is a direct outgrowth of this work.

Sometimes data leads us in interesting directions. Not too long ago, we had the opportunity to look at participation in the Imagination Library book program within the City of Syracuse by census tract. As a founding funder of the program, we were highly interested in seeing the map of children’s participation in correlation to other indicators, like poverty and educational attainment. We were surprised to find that there were more children participating in Imagination Library each month in some census tracts than the census thought existed. This pointed to a problem: the census is at times undercounting residents in urban and rural areas alike – especially in areas with high poverty, where significant numbers of residents move frequently or are new to an area.

We are taking an active role in supporting local efforts, as well as a state-wide funders coalition, to ensure a full and accurate census count in 2020. We provided grant funding to New York Counts 2020, convened by the New York Immigration Coalition, to support the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) process, which is a once-a-decade opportunity for local governments to add, correct or delete addresses on the lists and maps used to conduct the census. The aim of this coalition is to ensure that all New Yorkers – particularly marginalized communities in hard-to-count areas – can fully maximize their participation in 2020. We awarded a grant to Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today (TNT), a resident-led group that represents all sectors of Syracuse, to educate residents on the importance of completing the census. Lastly, we provided grant support to the City of Syracuse to hire a Complete Count Coordinator, which will facilitate our local 2020 Census effort and coordinate with community-based organizations, the City, County and state and federal governments.

We are also advocating for greater funding by New York State for census-supporting activities and, along with many other funders, question the proposed inclusion by the federal government of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The inclusion of a citizenship question in the questionnaire prompts the likelihood of an undercount – making it more likely that residents will not be responsive to the survey, especially in places like Syracuse that are home to significant numbers of refugees and immigrants. An undercount leads not only to bad data, but erroneous funding decisions by governments that make allocation determinations based on population. As a philanthropic institution that relies heavily on census data to make key funding decisions of our own, a full and accurate count is one of our most pressing concerns.

Click here to learn more about the risks of a Census 2020 undercount.

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