As New York City became the epicenter of the COVID pandemic this spring, wealthy New Yorkers fled in droves.
Now there’s growing evidence that many of them forgot about something before they left – the Census.
The Census completion rates in wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan like the Upper East Side, Midtown, Soho, and Tribeca are lagging behind the already worrying city-wide average of 53 percent.
These neighborhoods usually enjoy strong response rates. But a likely combination of rich New Yorkers leaving for second homes, college students not returning to school, and other Manhattanites staying with family outside the city have turned these neighborhoods into problem spots for Census workers.
People should fill out their Census based on where they would normally have lived on April 1 of this year. But at a time when many people would have ordinarily completed their forms, they were packing up and leaving the city.
Lower response rates mean the city and the state risk losing out on their share of $1.5 trillion in federal money distributed based on Census data. This money is used for an array of services including hospitals, first-responders, schools, SNAP benefits, and more.
Every response counts.
Missing just one person in the city could reduce education funding by $2,295, and job training by $281
New York already faces an uphill climb when it comes to convincing people to fill out their forms. President Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to place a citizenship question on the Census added to the distrust in immigrant communities where many already feared giving information to the federal government.
To be clear, answers are safeguarded by law and they can’t be shared with law enforcement or immigration officials. But the understandable concerns persist.
New York State’s current response rate of 57.5 percent lags behind the national average of 62 percent. And state efforts at Census outreach have seemingly stalled, in part because the pandemic makes tactics like knocking on doors more risky.
This all comes as our state faces a massive $13 billion budget deficit caused by the COVID-triggered economic shutdown. Local governments are also feeling the crunch, and responding by cutting critical services.
Losing out on Census dollars that are rightfully ours would only add to the fiscal pain.
And aside from the economic impact, a low return rate could also hurt New York’s political power. A combination of outward migration and poor Census performance has our state poised to lose two or more congressional seats unless we get a strong return rate.
This would continue a decades-long trend of New York’s voice growing quieter in the House of Representatives. In 1950, New York had 45 congressional seats. We’re now down to 27, most recently losing two seats in 2010.
Fortunately, there’s still time to turn things around. The final day to submit a response is October 31, and, beginning August 11, Census takers will interview people in homes that haven't responded to help make sure everyone is counted.
You can do your part today by filling the Census out now. It only takes a few minutes and your response alone will help bring the state thousands of much-needed dollars. Even if you weren’t at your usual residence on April 1st, you should fill out the Census for what was considered your usual residence on that date.
Let’s help New York come back better than ever.