Newark Arts High School students, quite literally, set the stage Monday to excite the community at the official launch of the 2020 census count.
It’s just 364 days until the decennial survey hits every household in New Jersey and across the country. Cities like Newark, that are considered hard to count, are hitting the ground running, competing with a number of changes to the survey that could make their task all the harder — not the least of which is a new citizenship question. The question is stirring immigration tensions and distrust in the government as it awaits a final decision from the Supreme Court later in April.
“We’re trying to go into a lot of these communities, the difficult to count communities, where folks might be more afraid and send some folks from that community to help us organize the people in those neighborhood,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
But there’s also a question asking about Hispanic or Latino origin, new write-in areas under race questions for those identifying as white and/or black, and a question about same-sex households. Researchers with the U.S. Census Bureau say it’s an effort to provide “more detailed, disaggregated data.” But leaders on the ground say it’s going to take a real effort to convince people of that.
“We believe it may have an impact. I don’t know why its even necessary to put in,” Baraka said.
“Let’s all pay attention that in 2010, an estimated 1 million kids under the age of 5 were not counted. We will not go back, we move forward,” said New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way.
At stake is the number of representatives New Jersey sends to Congress and billions of dollars in federal funding. A higher population count means more money flowing to each city, it’s residents and the services they require. In 2010, Newark had just a 53 percent return rate on census surveys. The state meanwhile, came in just under 75 percent. That means cities were undercounted.
It all may seem a little over the top, but there’s a lot hinging on the count. In fact, Way kicked off the campaign by traveling throughout New Jersey on Monday, starting in Jersey City and ending in Mount Holly, making sure any misinformation about the survey gets cleared up.
“I want you to know that there is anonymity associated with your census form,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.
“It’s safe. Title 13 federal law protects every piece of data we collect. That means we cannot release any information that identifies an individual or a household,” said Lisa Moore, assistant regional census manager for the U.S. Census Bureau, New York region.
It’s a full-court press until the end.