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Much at stake for full Census count

Much at stake for full Census count

Libraries expected to play key role in online count
Much at stake for full Census count
Photographer: Shutterstock

CAPITAL REGION -- By educated guess, New York state today has 20.1 million residents, up from 19.4 million in the official 2010 Census count.

But how many people really live in the Empire State? That will be settled -- at least in a perfect world -- when the 2020 federal Census takes place next April 1.

A state commission is at work trying to make sure everyone who lives in the state gets counted, including people in remote rural areas, the poor, young children and racial and ethnic minorities.

Next year, for the first time, participants will have the option of filling out their census form online, and the Census Bureau hopes many people do, though some experts believe the "digital divide" will dampen responses from the very same people at risk of being under-counted already.

The stakes are high, because while New York's population is growing, it's growing far more slowly than the populations in most other states, and many of those who need to be counted are undocumented immigrants, who may be scared of being counted in the current political climate.

"New York is expected to lose at least one, and potentially two seats in Congress," said Andrew A. Beveridge, a professor of sociology at Queens College and the City University of New York and a member of New York's Complete Count Commission. "It would be the only state to lose two seats, if that happened."

“As little difference as 20,000 [undercount] could make a difference in which state gets congressional representation and which doesn’t," Beveridge said.

Census information also determines the amount of federal funding the state and its communities get, so millions of dollars are at stake.

“A good Census is the first step to making sure we have good roads, good schools and good representation," said Laura Bierman, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State.

The Complete Count Commission held the last of a series of public hearings across the state on Tuesday at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. The hearings have focused on what New York can do to ensure a complete count, with the commission expected to recommend how the state should spend $20 million allocated by the state Legislature.

A theme at the Albany meeting is that much of the burden of helping people fill out the Census, especially if they are doing it online, will fall on public libraries.

“Libraries are going to be the natural place for people to come to fill out of the Census," said Scott Jarzombek, executive director of the Albany Public Library system.

Libraries in remote rural areas of the southern Adirondacks or the Mohawk Valley, where many homes don't have internet access, are likely to see many people looking for help, library administrators said.

"Libraries are going to do this work, if you give us money or don't give us money," said Michael Neppl of the New York Library Association, which represents public libraries. "We are going to do the work, but we would love to have the resources to do it effectively."

The Complete Count Commission was established in January, amid concerns that the Trump administration's efforts to include a citizenship question on the survey would suppress response in New York, which with California and Texas has among the highest rates of citizens who are immigrants. The issue of whether the citizenship question will be on the Census form is currently being decided in court.

“I think this makes it all the more important for New York to invest heavily this year," said Beveridge, who noted there are grounds for immigrants to be concerned, despite the promise that census information is kept anonymous.

“They rounded up the Japanese during World War II based on Census data," Beveridge said. "That’s there. That’s history.”

While the Albany hearing was to have been the commission's final hearing, co-Chairman Jim Malatras said the commission has had requests to hold hearings in more parts of the state, and more hearings will probably be held this summer.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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