New York needs the resources for an accurate 2020 census


Good policy is born out of good data. This is never truer than when it comes to counting those living in America – a process mandated by our Constitution and performed once a decade by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Collecting demographic information gives policymakers the insight needed to better understand communities and to create policies that meet our country’s needs. When it comes to the Census, if you’re not counted, you essentially do not exist in the eyes of our government.

For New York City residents, the 2020 census will be critical. It is an opportunity to correct serious miscalculations from the last Census – mistakes that left tens of thousands of New Yorkers uncounted, and therefore undervalued in the eyes of the federal government. These mistakes grew out of problems with field operations in two local census offices in Brooklyn and Queens that left many housing units erroneously classified as vacant when, in fact, hard-working men and women and their families lived there.

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Undercounting residents in those districts translated into real losses for Brooklyn and Queens residents. For every person not counted in New York City, the state received less than its fair share of the $400 billion distributed annually by the federal government. That means less money for students and our schools, less money for public transit and less money for community improvements – critical resources New Yorkers rely on every day.

It also means less representation for New Yorkers in Congress. Undercounting the state’s population could result in fewer representatives than New Yorkers are entitled to. This would have a ripple effect on the drawing of political districts at all levels of government throughout the city and state, fueling partisan imbalances that have made governing difficult in the past few years. 

This is why attention must be paid to the Census now. While the formal process doesn’t begin until 2020, there is important groundwork to be done that will ensure everyone living in America will be accurately counted.

And there are troubling signs that indicate the Census Bureau is not preparing for 2020 adequately. The bureau has proposed delayed openings for local census offices, canceling tests to validate new procedures and cutting public communication and engagement tools. This all stems from anticipated cuts in President Trump’s budget that fail to value the importance of an accurate Census.

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This is not something we, as your elected officials, can stand for. Recently, we wrote to President Trump’s administration demanding that more attention be paid to how the Census Bureau is staffing up and the policies that will eventually be put in place to count us all. We’re also raising alarm bells about recent reports that the Trump Administration will not include data collection on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, a troubling move considering the unique challenges members of those communities face.

The United States of America is defined by the people living within its borders, and we should all be proud that our communities are diverse – made up of individuals with different backgrounds, races, ethnicities and lifestyles. That diversity is indeed what makes America so great.

We need a Census that truly understands our communities and ensures the needs of all of us are met. That can only happen when the federal government recognizes both the importance of data collection and provides the resources needed to carry out a successful Census.

U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes Queens and the Bronx. U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke represents New York's 9th Congressional District.