Julie Menin

NYC census outreach is paying off

A Q&A with New York City census director Julie Menin on putting more resources into phone banks and digital ads to reach New Yorkers.

Julie Menin

Julie Menin Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The coronavirus outbreak appears to be depressing census turnout across the nation, but not in New York City. 

During the first week in which people could fill out the census, New Yorkers responded at a higher rate than they did 10 years ago, even as the country's performance declined, according to figures shared by New York City on Friday. 

Of course, it’s quite early on in the weeks-long process, and New York City still lags the country as a whole. But the city’s self-response rate of 10.5% is a promising start, especially when compared with its 6% rate during the first week of the census in 2010, and not so far behind the initial nationwide rate of 14.1%. 

“The initial self-response data shows that the unprecedented citywide Census 2020 campaign is resonating and that New Yorkers, particularly in this critical time, want to ensure that we receive the resources and representation we deserve,” Julie Menin, the director of New York City’s census outreach efforts, said in a statement. “We have far more to do, and we must remain both cautious and vigilant, especially since the communities on the front lines of COVID-19 are also the ones that have been historically undercounted by the census, which is why we need every New Yorker to join our quest to get all of us counted.”

New York City is investing an unprecedented $40 million into efforts to encourage residents to fill out their 2020 census forms. But many of those events and door-knocking initiatives have been put on hold as the global coronavirus pandemic has led local and state governments to limit human interaction to slow the virus’s spread. The effort to a citizenship question this year – even though it failed – may also dampen turnout in some communities.

Yet it looks like New Yorkers will have more time to respond to the survey. The U.S. Census Bureau announced on Friday that it would extend the count – which is being conducted primarily online for the first time – for two weeks to now end on Aug. 14. Earlier this week, City & State spoke with Menin, the director of NYC Census 2020, to find out how the city has changed its approach to make sure all New Yorkers get counted. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Could you tell me about how New York City’s census operations have had to change in light of the coronavirus?

Before (the) coronavirus, we had held over 500 events all throughout the year, big town halls and large-scale events on the census and the importance of the census. Now, of course, in light of COVID-19, we have revamped our plan.

First of all, we are focused very much on the phone banking and text messaging part of our strategy, which we were always going to do. But now we are making some significant changes. … We’ve pulled down and are changing some of the ads that would have launched in the subways, instead converting those ads to digital and to TV. … Secondly, we are really focused on making sure that New Yorkers understand, from the messaging standpoint, that at this time of coronavirus, the census is incredibly important because health care funds are linked to how many people fill out the census. Whether it’s children’s health insurance, whether it’s funding for hospitals, or the fact that the New York City Health Department looks at census data in emergencies to determine how to respond. … In all of these different instances, we want to make sure that that message is clearly communicated.

And the fact that so many people now are at home, it’s easier than ever to complete the census by just going online or calling the toll-free number.

You had mentioned that the city would be tracking data on the response rates across the five boroughs. How are you going to use that data now to inform which areas to target?

That data is going to be more valuable to us than ever because it will allow us to see by census tract, which is on average about 3,000 people, how many people in that particular census tract responded. Now, before coronavirus, we could have done events in the neighborhood. … Now we’re going to need to reach them remotely. But it still is extremely valuable data because it allows us to phone bank into those census tracts. It allows us to really look at how can we best reach people who are not responding. And also our digital ads. I mean, we’re putting more money than ever now into digital.

One of the challenges in planning is to make sure that New Yorkers have internet access and libraries act as those points of access for some people. But now that a lot of libraries have closed, how do you ensure that people who do not have internet access at home are able to complete the census?

That is a real measurable issue. … We had initially had over 300 pop-ups that were available for people to go into that lacked internet access. Now, due to the coronavirus, we’ve really got to focus on phone banking those individuals because that’s going to be more important than ever –  to ensure that we phone bank them and that they understand that there is a toll-free number that you can call to answer the census. It’s available, that toll-free number, in 13 different languages. … There’s a different number for each of the 13 languages that people can call. In addition, we strongly believe that more paper forms need to be mailed out. We directly expressed that strong concern to the regional bureau. … And they have indicated that it’s likely that they will do so.

Some elected officials and groups have been calling for the census to get delayed. How do you see that playing out? Is that something that you would support?

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, we are dealing (with) an unprecedented situation. And while we do have the tools digitally and through the telephone … we’re dealing with the unknown and the census is more important than ever now. … We support taking whatever measures are needed to ensure a proper count. And if that means a delay and an extension of time, then we need to absolutely do that.

Usually universities will coordinate with the Census Bureau to get the count out for their students on campus. How is that proceeding now?

We literally started that in January. That was one of the first things in my first week on the job that I started working on, because I quickly learned that, in 2010, some dorms were simply not counted, either because the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t make contact early enough with the university or they weren’t making the proper contact point within the university. I assembled the universities in New York City, had them designate a point person within the university, and then worked with the U.S. Census Bureau to make that contact much earlier because that contact was generally happening right before the count begins. That’s way too late.

Has there been any confusion now that students have en masse been moving back home or displaced from campus?

Because they’re counted in group quarters, whether or not the student is residing in the dorm does not affect the count. … Let’s take (New York University) as an example. So NYU students who are living in the dorms at NYU, we establish a contact within the university system to work directly with the U.S. Census Bureau. They then turn over that administrative data directly to the U.S. Census Bureau. So whether or not the student in particular was living in that dorm at that very moment because of (the) coronavirus does not affect the count.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.