Let the counting begin.
New Yorkers this week will begin receiving U.S. Census forms in the mail — and the many who choose to ignore them will do so at the city’s peril.
That’s because $24 billion in federal money is stake, money for everything from schools, hospitals and roads to senior centers and youth sports programs.
“If you count, you stand out and you have your voices heard,” said New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez. “Invisible people do not count in this country.”
But it’s about more than cash: The Census will give a new snapshot of the city’s rapidly shifting ethnic landscape, and new insights into how neighborhoods have transformed since the last count in 2000.
Census officials said a host of factors make getting an accurate count challenging: Households with more people than are listed on the lease; buildings with illegally subdivided apartments; non-English speakers; and immigrants who may be fearful of divulging information to the government.
“Diversity if a beautiful thing but it is extremely challenging,” said Rafael Dominguez, partnership coordinator in the bureau’s New York office. “A lot of emerging communities come from countries where they conduct censuses and they might not have the most positive take on it.”
To get the best count possible, the U.S. Census Bureau will eventually send 170,000 field workers into every corner of the city.
In 2000, only 55 percent of New York City households mailed back the forms, below the 67 percent nationwide average. State officials estimate that some 200,000 people were not counted, costing the state about $3.6 billion in federal funds during the past nine years.
The census is working with dozens of community groups to get the word out, and ensure privacy and confidentiality.
In addition, rapidly changing neighborhoods and constant immigration means the mosaic of the city is always shifting.
“Communities that looked a certain way a few years ago have changed,” said Allison Cenac, a regional Census manager.
In areas such as Downtown Brooklyn and Harlem, said Dominguez, massive development in the past decade has created whole new neighborhoods. The city maintains a master address file, last updated in June, but some buildings get missed and the plans registered with the city don’t always reflect who is living there, he said.
The forms are printed in four languages as well as braille, but there are more than 300 languages and dialects spoken in Queens alone.
In Queens, “we encountered so many different languages, some of the immigrant groups were new to the area and didn’t really understand what this was about,” Cenac said.