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Blame residents for low census count?


amny Credit: Michael Kirby Smith

Dinali Fernando and Sebastien Talbot moved to their bustling Jackson Heights neighborhood more than three years ago, attracted to its vibrancy and a building teeming with tenants.

So to hear that the 2010 Census counted 5,200 fewer people in Jackson Heights, that nearby Astoria neighborhoods lost thousands of residents, and that Queens grew by a meager 1,300 people from 2000 to 2010, was a shock to the married couple.

“This is such an immigrant-rich neighborhood. It feels like there are so many people we know moving here,” Fernando, 36, said yesterday after politicians gathered in Jackson Heights to reaffirm the city’s decision to challenge the Census numbers and demand an investigation into the apparent undercount.

Residents are part of the reason for the underwhelming numbers. Four people randomly approached by amNewYork, including Fernando and Talbot, said they never returned a form and then missed a follow-up count by an actual census taker.

While officials continue to speculate that many residents are undocumented immigrants or living in illegal housing conversions, making them fearful of cooperating, it also seems likely that a number of people simply chose not to fill out the forms. As one example, Pat Castillo, 37, said she has neighbors in Elmhurst who were too busy to take the census.

City and state officials, however, still want to reconcile the official count with what they believe is a more realistic number. City planners estimate the Census’ count of nearly 8.2 million missed about 225,000.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that he blames the Census Bureau for not reaching out to local officials when enumerators began canvassing neighborhoods.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) rattled off a list of questions he wants answered, including how many times enumerators went back to check on a supposedly vacant address. He added that New York stands to lose millions in federal aid if its population is not correctly counted.

Census officials could not be reached for comment.

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