Mackenzie Hawkins

With the first 2020 census count efforts coming up in March, city, state and federal officials have kick-started a concerted push to encourage New Haven’s participation.

The census — a once-per-decade count of individuals

and households across all states — bears significant allocative implications for the next 10 years. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz ’83 has repeatedly stressed that the penalty of undercounting is steep, ringing in at $2,900 per person per year in federal funds. This adds up in New Haven — a city that was 30 percent underreported in the last census, according to Mayor Justin Elicker.

The census can also cost the state its representatives in Washington; following the 2000 census, Connecticut lost one seat in the House — and therefore one vote in the Electoral College. And while the number of political districts may not change, their shape certainly can and likely will, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. To that end, officials at all levels of government are working to hire census workers and educate the public about the high-stakes count.

“I wish everybody in this state understood just how critical this census count is,” Connecticut Complete Count Committee Co-Chair and State Representative Pat Wilson Pheanious said at a Saturday summit concerning hard-to-count communities. “We have one chance every 10 years to get it right … there are 11 billion reasons to make sure we [do].”

That number is a reference to the amount Connecticut receives annually for federal programs — among the lowest figure in the country, despite the fact that the Nutmeg State ranks first in federal income tax payment. Pheanious also underscored that the state receives invaluable demographic information from the census that guides the development of state programs.

While the U.S. Census Bureau spearheads the count — the federal agency will open three offices in Connecticut and 248 nationally for the 2020 effort — it is the work of local officials and laypeople that will ensure an accurate number. Bysiewicz, who chairs the Connecticut Complete Count Committee, said that local organizations have pledged to match the $500,000 the state will commit to the census.

Those local partnerships, several officials stressed at Saturday’s summit, are critical because of the significant challenges in counting some of the Elm City’s communities. Rural, minority, low income, renting, homeless, non-English speaking and student communities are among those that tend to be difficult to count. Pheanious and Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, CHDC, Chair and Meriden City Councilman Miguel Castro emphasized that government mistrust and fear — particularly among black and Latino individuals — often leads those individuals not to participate in the census.

“There’s no secret that there is a level of fear within our Latino and immigration community in our cities,” Castro said. “Unfortunately, certain population groups … are at the highest risk of not being fully counted in the census.”

Castro has appointed a census taskforce chairperson within the CHDC. He also expressed his hope that the 2020 census’ reliance on Internet responses will increase representation of historically undercounted population groups.

Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 stressed the importance of informing college students that they should be counted where they go to school, not at their parents’ residence. Jeff T. Behler, who heads the Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office, said that students living off campus are particularly hard to count and that the city needs to frontload its efforts given that many students leave campus for the summer.

In the City of New Haven — which aims to hire 2,874 census workers — census workers can set their own schedules and earn $23 to $30 an hour for between four and 12 weeks, according to Behler. Residents can fill a variety of roles, including coordinating efforts from behind a desk and personally going door to door. Bysiewicz and other officials have emphasized that working for the census will not affect employees’ immigration status or participation in assistance programs.

There are four ways to respond to the census in 2020: online, by phone, on paper or in person via a visit by a census employee. Census workers, by federal law, are sworn to confidentiality for life and the agency will never release information at the individual or household level. The census does not collect information regarding immigration status and will never ask for social security numbers, bank account information or money.

The first census count efforts will begin on March 12.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu