Daniel Zhao

New Haven may have a problem: Yale students are hard to count.

While the problem of counting New Haven’s college students emerges only once a decade, it is a problem New Haven community members responsible for promoting and coordinating the 2020 U.S. Census are determined to overcome.

This Tuesday, these community members, including representatives from community advocacy organizations, city employees and census workers, met at the New Haven Free Public Library for the New Haven Census Committee’s second meeting. The committee’s focus is to identify past challenges that arose while collecting responses in 2010 and organize targeted outreach efforts to combat undercounting next year.

“The time to start outreach is now,” said Karolina Ksiazek ’15, a planner for the city of New Haven who led Monday’s meeting. “Residents show the strongest willingness to respond when they are told that their responses impact funding for their community.”

The committee plans to launch its publicity campaign beginning next Monday, April 1, which will mark one year until counting efforts begin for the 2020 Census. 

Census officials designate students as one of the “hardest to count” groups. The tendency to miscount students stems from broad misconceptions as to where students should report their primary residences. Students are likely to assume that they should register as residents of their hometown, current family residence or the place they registered to vote. None of these, however are the correct guiding answer.

According to Ksiazek, students should register for the census wherever they will reside for the greatest portion of 2020. For most Yalies, this will mean New Haven. 

Several attendees at the meeting stressed that the failure to count resident students underrepresents the city’s demographic outlook, potentially altering the allocation of funds for which the city and state may qualify.

Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz ’83 recently told the New Haven Register that Connecticut stands to “lose thousands of dollars for each person that is not counted in the census.” At the meeting, attendees were concerned that this drop in funds could multiply over the following 10 years until the following census.

For any jurisdiction, accurate reporting of its population in the census means that federal funding is more likely to reflect the community’s needs. In New Haven, the city’s high share of “hard to count” groups, which extend beyond its substantial number of college students, merits a concentrated municipal effort.

Another group designated “hard to count” by the U.S. Census is the city’s homeless population.

Paul Fabula, a partnership specialist at the New York Regional Census Center, will help supervise the census process in New Haven. Addressing reports that homeless populations have reacted skeptically toward census counters, Fabula said that he wants to continue to reach out to site coordinators and members of the homeless community at city shelters such as Life Haven and the Columbus House to ensure their encounters with the city’s homeless population are less threatening and as a result, more effective.

In 2010, parts of three New Haven neighborhoods — Fair Haven, Newhallville and Edgewood — were designated by the Census Bureau as especially “hard to count” tracts due to low mail-return rates of census forms — less than 60 percent.

Such neighborhoods are mostly composed of groups the Census Bureau has designated “hard to count.”

All three of these neighborhoods, for example, are home to overwhelmingly non-white communities, which have lower response rates. DataHaven research from 2016 estimates that more than 80 percent of the residents in the three areas are people of color. The section of Newhallville listed as “hard to count” is 99 percent non-white.

Also contributing to the difficulty in census efforts is reaching out to non-English-speaking households. Thirty-five percent of New Haven residents use a language other than English at home, according to a 2017 report from the Census Bureau’s own American Community Survey. Roughly three-fourths of these households are Spanish-speaking. At the meeting, Daniel Reyes, the executive director of the New Haven–based Latino advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action, emphasized that the failure to access these communities is part of the reason why Fair Haven recorded such a low response rate in the 2010 Census.

At the meeting, community organizations shared their first steps to respond to these barriers. A representative from The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven pointed to its partnership with two local radio shows, one broadcasting in Spanish and another in English, as a means of directly reminding community members about “the benefits of registering.”

At the meeting, several New Haven Library branch directors said that they have organized early career fairs at five branches to attract a diverse range of applicants from throughout New Haven who will be able to easily integrate within each community.

Census offices, including one in downtown New Haven, are due to open this summer.

Emiliano Gómez | emiliano.gomez@yale.edu