As young children, the headcount at school was always important. Whether it was on a field trip or taking attendance for the day, it was critical that teachers had an accurate headcount. It was how we accounted for everyone, made plans for the day, and ensured that no one got left behind.
In a way, the same is true with the census. This once-in-a-decade headcount of the U.S. population is how officials decide how resources are divvied up and how regions will be represented. The deadline to respond to the questionnaire is Sept. 30, and the stakes are high. Census data affects everything from school funding to class size, from resources for road repair and disaster recovery to health care services – all of which will become even more important in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. Census data is also used to calculate New York State’s votes in the electoral college, to draw congressional and state legislative districts, and to determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. These representatives are the ones who advocate for our region’s needs and amplify our voices in Washington. In 2010, New York lost two congressional seats because of an undercount.
As of Sept. 2, Suffolk County’s self-response rate was 65.5 percent, while Nassau County was fairing higher at 72.2 percent. According to the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, which is leading efforts to get a complete count, part of the reason why Suffolk’s response rate is lower than Nassau’s is that the East End is seeing very low rates, likely due to COVID-19 disruptions in door-to-door outreach efforts. Several East End areas have not even broken the 30 percent response rate, a stark contrast to areas like Bayport, Sayville and Smithtown, where the rate is above 75 percent. Meanwhile, other areas in Suffolk as of Aug. 19 were still below the 60 percent response rate; those included Patchogue at 59.5 percent, Mastic Beach at 60 percent, and the hamlet of Brookhaven at 43.9 percent, but those numbers now seem to be on the rise undoubtedly due to outreach efforts.
There have been the usual challenges. Response rates are lower in “hard-to-count” populations including minority and immigrant communities and low-income households.
There have also been extraordinary challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Census organizers halted field work for several weeks, and households are still trying to recover from the physical, emotional and financial impacts of the outbreak, leaving little room to worry about anything else.
However, we have to dig deep and think ahead. We will live with the consequences of our region’s census response for the next 10 years. The stakes for 2020 and beyond are too great to waste the opportunity to right this ship for the decade ahead.
The Census Bureau will end its follow-up campaign in 20 days. You can respond online, by phone, or by mail. Please visit my2020census.gov so that no one is left behind in this important headcount.