Every ten years the U.S. Census is supposed to offer Americans a unique opportunity to learn more about our communities. But in the latest count, it came as a surprise that we are the ones who have to teach the Federal Government about who New Yorkers are.
According to the census data released last week, New York City has only grown 2.1 percent in the past ten years. The idea that our city barely grew in the past decade is absurd.
Even more ridiculous is the notion that Queens, the nation’s fourth largest and most diverse county only grew by 1,343 people, or a measly .1 percent.
In this troubled economic climate, we as elected officials are looking at every possible way to preserve core government services and protect our most vulnerable. What made this especially grim are the continued cuts from the federal government – money that is primarily based on our census results.
Our city relies on this funding to help improve our schools, build and maintain affordable housing, provide food stamps for needy families, and operate hospitals. Funding for small businesses assistance and repairs to our infrastructure are also based on the census.
Last year it was reported that the city had to send the addresses of 127,000 apartments or homes (nearly four percent of all the housing in the city) that the Census Bureau did not have.
The census is conducted first through a mail-in questionnaire; then surveyors are sent out to those addresses which did not return the mailing.
In Queens alone, there are more than 140 languages spoken, all of which are used as the primary language for some residents. For some families not proficient in English, even if they wanted to answer the questionnaire, they wouldn’t be able to.
Imagine the problem confronting an immigrant family that is living here illegally when a stranger knocks on the door identifies him/herself as an employee of the Federal government and begins asking for personal information while promising to only use it for “statistical purposes only.”
In Queens some dwellings have been illegally sub-divided, allowing for basement dwellings and more units than permitted. No landlord or resident in an illegally converted domicile will ever truthfully answer a questionnaire or a census taker at their door asking how many people live in their household/
For those of us who live and work in Queens, it comes as a shock to hear numbers that we all know to be grossly inaccurate.
In Jackson Heights, home to large South American and South Asian populations that have increased dramatically over the past decade, the Census Bureau reported that there were 5,200 less people living here than in 2000.
Another supposed decrease came in the Astoria and Northwest area of Queens where the Census Bureau reported that there were 10,000 less residents today than there were in 2000. The Census Bureau counted 1,300 less occupied units and 1,200 more vacant units than in 2000. When census surveyors were unsuccessful in reaching someone, they would invariably designate the dwelling as vacant – a disturbing fact.
The Mayor said the city intends to appeal the Census Bureau’s findings under the “Count Question Resolution” which affords us an opportunity to challenge the count. But again, history shows that not much is expected. In 2000, challenges from across the country only resulted in an increase of 2,700 people with a population of 281 million. We need to have an honest, realistic dialogue with Congressional leaders from both parties on why a simple headcount cannot be the means to accurately assess the demographics of our communities.
We must demand that the Census Bureau take an initiative to not use a one-size fits all model of counting people. The census strategy that is employed in a rural area of Nebraska simply cannot be the same model that is used in Elmhurst, Queens.
The future of our children’s education, our health system and our infrastructure demands that we expect better from the U.S. Census Bureau.
NYC Council Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie is also chair of the Council’s Queens Delegation.