Here’s Why You Should Fill Out the 2020 Census ASAP

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Although the COVID-19 crisis has taken up most of the public’s attention recently, another important focus — the ongoing 2020 census — should also be given due attention. Last month set in motion a critical phase in the census for the upcoming decade. In April, thousands of census takers were mobilized to knock on people’s doors and reach out to remote or vulnerable communities to make sure as many people as possible get counted.  

census 2020

In fact, starting mid-March, Hoboken + Jersey City residents should already have received letters from the Census Bureau prompting them to complete the 2020 census questionnaire. Following the instructions in the letter, they can log into the 2020 census website and answer the questions about themselves and their households. {Please note, according to the Census website, “Census takers will work with administrators at colleges, senior centers, prisons, and other facilities that house large groups of people to make sure everyone is counted” from “April 16th-June 19th,” and from “May 27th – August 14th: Census takers will interview homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.” So, current Census information is still relevant.}

The information asked is supposed to give a snapshot of “how many people live where” in America as of April 1st {thus “census day”}. The list of questions should take no more than 10 minutes to answer. The response can also be submitted by phone or by mail. 

Census American Flag

While it seems easy enough, the fact of the matter is that Americans are not filling out their 2020 Census questionnaires as quickly as in the previous census years. As of the first week of April, even after the media campaign on April 1st Census Day, only about 44% of the population nationwide have responded to the census, while a decade ago the percentage was over 50% by the end of March.  Hudson County is doing even worse than the national average, at only 35%. So we’re sharing a few reasons and the background on why it’s CRUCIAL to fill out the census questionnaire and how it could affect the future of our region.

Why It’s Important to Respond — It Could Shape Your Area’s Future

Census Hoboken

Census results significantly affect life in a local community in the next decade. The population count determines how much federal funding would be allocated to local public services. These are not some abstract budget numbers we read about in national news. The money can be spent to provide lunches at local schools, upgrade local roads + railways, improve local healthcare, and pay the firefighters + policemen in town. Simply put, the more people get counted in one area, {potentially} the more resources it gets. 

Read More: 20 Hoboken + Jersey City News Stories You Missed This Week

Even a small margin can help a lot. According to the Hoboken city government, in the 2010 Census, Hoboken passed a critical threshold of 50,000 residents by only five {!} people. This resulted in tens of thousands of dollars for Hoboken and local institutions over the past ten years

The importance of getting counted is further demonstrated by the current COVID-19 crisis. Urging residents to respond to the 2020 census, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla emphasized that “Hoboken will be asking for its fair share of funding from the state and Federal government to help with the COVID-19 crisis, and the population determined by the census will have a major impact in determining what we receive. This is an easy way for residents to help our city while self-isolating from home.”

It’s not just the government who relies on census data to make decisions. Businesses also use the data to decide where to open new shops and offices, build factories + warehouses, and expand operations. These will translate to jobs, opportunities, and economic growth of the area chosen. Getting counted in the census is one of the easiest things we can do {especially when confined at home} to help our community.

See More: Hoboken Now Requiring Employees of Essential Businesses to Wear Masks, Asking Public to Do the Same

Additionally, given how easily rumors go viral in social media groups these days, it is the civic duty of every one of us to be alerted to misinformation that discourages participation. The census bureau website has a useful {and interesting} “Fighting rumors” page that debunks many common misconceptions of the on-going census. You can also report rumors and misinformation at rumors@census.gov

Information for Non-US Citizens 

census noncitizen

Foreign citizens living in the US share local public services and participate in the economy with American citizens, and therefore should be counted in the total population, on which so many public policy and business decisions are based. This is particularly true for Hudson County, where more than 40% of the population are foreign-born and more than 22% are foreign citizens. To make sure our vibrant ethnic communities are well-served, we should spread the words and encourage everyone around us, American citizen or not, to participate in the census

However, such a hesitation is not unfounded. In 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross tried to add a question to the 2020 census that reads, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Since then there had been heated debates on whether such a question would deter non-citizens from responding to the census, for fear of potential xenophobia or even crackdowns on immigrants. But this question was eventually ruled as unlawful, if not unconstitutional, and is excluded from this year’s questionnaire. In other words, people will not be asked about their citizenship in the 2020 census.

 The 2020 Census Compared to Previous Years 

census form online

This is the first time the US census can be responded to online {*that is, except in 2000, when an online submission option was made available but not publicized. It was designed as a “test run” for future large-scale online census}. The current COVID-19 lockdown, of course, has also added more uncertainties to the census, especially to the field operation. 

For one thing, the “field operation”, in which census takers go into each community and help people respond, is postponed to April 15. For this, “we are adjusting some operations with two key principles in mind: protecting the health and safety of our staff and the public, and fulfilling our statutory requirement to deliver the 2020 Census counts on schedule,” a spokesperson from the New York Region Census Center told Hoboken Girl. With the transformations in the media and technology landscape since the last census, the census bureau has also adopted new methods, and the focus is to encourage self-response. “We are making changes to our paid media campaign, earned media efforts, and partnership outreach efforts to adapt to changing conditions while continuing to promote self-response.” the spokesperson said. So it’s not surprising that we see census ads appearing in our Instagram, Twitter, and Nextdoor feeds.

Census + Data Privacy 

census internet security

In an email, New York Region Census Center also assured local residents that “[the census] is safe because federal law protects individual responses so no personal information is shared with any other government department or agency either at the federal, state, or local level.” In fact, the rules are stricter than most people realize. Personal details asked in the census, such as race, family relationship, and living arrangements are not only closed to the public, but also to government agencies {such as law enforcement} except the census bureau itself, for a mandatory 72 years, an actuarial lifetime {meaning the data we submit this year will not be disclosed to almost anyone outside the Census Bureau until 2092, almost the next century}. After that, the National Archives “may disclose information contained in these records for use in legitimate historical, genealogical or other worthwhile research, provided adequate precautions are taken to make sure that the information disclosed is not to be used to the detriment of any of the persons whose records are involved.”

Of course, one can always argue that cybersecurity is a concern, especially considering 2020 is the first time that the US census is conducted mainly online. Although the Census Bureau says it’s taking cybersecurity matters seriously and working with technology experts {some are from Amazon Web Service and Microsoft, according to Wired Magazine} to make the system more robust, there are still “significant cybersecurity challenges” according to the Government Accountability Office. The reality is we simply won’t know for sure how material these security threats are. Another way to look at it, however, is that given how freely we hand over our personal information on social media websites {which, of course, is not optimal}, it doesn’t seem to be a wise decision to opt-out of the 2020 census simply for cybersecurity concerns, at least for now. 

When To Respond to the Census 

census april

Despite the fact that everyone seemed to be talking about the census on April 1, this is not a deadline. It is a “key date” because the information as of April 1st that should be reported. In fact, the deadline to respond to the Census has been extended to August 14th. But it’s not a great idea to wait until then to respond. People who do not complete it will start to get reminder letters in their mailboxes in early April. Starting mid-April {the date has been postponed from April 1st to April 15th due to the COVID-19 lockdown}, there will be field workers reaching out to local communities {to assist people with responding online at places such as grocery stores and community centers}, although the lockdown adds extra layers of complexity to this year’s operations. If you keep ignoring it until early May, a field worker will eventually show up at your door and make you do it. {See the link here for the adjusted timeline for this year’s census}. Given the on-going pandemic, to ensure the safety of our local census takers and make their lives easier, they are urging people to complete the census online, by phone, or by mail.

The Interactive Map

Census 2020 Map

Unfortunately so far, Hudson County residents have not been doing a great job responding to the census. As of April 4th, even after Census Day, the response rate is a mere 35.6%, far below the New Jersey average of 45.7% and national average of 44%. There is actually an interactive map {fun to play within the endless stay-at-home days} on the Census Bureau’s website to track daily response rates down to the township level. Click here to view it.

How to Stay Engaged 

Census 2020 form

“The most important thing you can do is respond online, by phone, or by mail.” as the New York Census Center spokesperson told Hoboken Girl. After that,  spread the words. “Encourage your friends, family, and social media followers to do the same. Use the time at home to ensure everyone in your sphere of influence gets counted so your community can receive the political representation and federal funding it needs”.

Even though we are all focusing on what feels like 145,724 things at the moment, take a few minutes to fill out this important questionnaire that will help do good for the local community for years to come. Head to the official website to fill out the questionnaire — it will only take a few minutes and it’s an easy way to do a little good while in quarantine. 

Got a news tip? Let us know — email us at hello@hobokengirl.com! We appreciate it.

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Written by:

Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.


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