Minorities risk being underrepresented in the 2020 census

After a 4-month delay, census workers started knocking on doors to remind Jersey City residents to fill out the form that comes every 10-years so New Jersey can get its fair share of federal funding.

While most people in New Jersey are filling out their census, state leaders say the people who need it the most aren’t.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop joined census volunteers and local leaders as they knocked on doors at the Holland Gardens public housing complex with the hope of getting much needed responses from residents.

“I can’t express the importance, and at the same time the frustration, of the census response and the hope that people become more active in responding because it will shape Jersey City’s future for the next decade,” Fulop said.

“It’s less than 10 questions. We’re asking basic information. It should take less than 10 minutes, and the impact is has is for the next decade to come,” said Deja Anderson, the Jersey City census project manager.

Anderson says the housing complex is located in the poorest performing census area.

“We are here in census track number 78; that’s how the Census Bureau breaks down the city. This is the worst performing census track in the city Jersey City and also in the county of Hudson. It’s coming in, reporting today, at 33.3%. Jersey City’s current total census self-response rate is at 50%. So we are lagging behind the county’s overall response rate at 56%, we lagging behind the state’s overall response rate at 62% and we are also falling behind the national average census response rate of 64%,” she said.

Language barriers, internet access and immigration status are just some of the barriers that volunteers face while trying to get an accurate census count.

“In the state of New Jersey as a whole, about 12 % of our population doesn’t have internet access in their homes. Prior to COVID we had planned drop-in locations. We also do not have that readily available to the community. We do have a group of census takers that are out here with us today and they are equipped, along with a city team, with tablets with data plans,” Anderson said.

She added, “Specifically, we want them to know, again, that the citizenship question is not on the census. There is no way for them to ask that or to ascertain that.”

Local leaders who also took part in the outreach stressed to residents that low response rates in areas with more Blacks, Hispanics and immigrants could mean the lack of vital resources, like transportation and representation in Congress.

“One of the major needs that we have here is public transit. There is no public transit here. We worked with Mayor Fulop and Council President Watterman and the council to get the Via service here, which is great, and now we have to get more. The more people that live in the neighborhood, the more we can advocate for better public transit options. The more we can advocate for better housing options,” said Councilman James Solomon.

“Particularly in the neighborhoods of low income and minority communities, they’ve been on the frontlines so they’ve struggled during this pandemic. It’s a lot to ask from people to deal with something like filling out this form, but we’re asking you to do it. It could be the difference between us having representation in Congress or not,” said Councilman Rolando Lavarro.

“Your voice is important here. You need to be at this table because we need more schools, more hospitals, more programs. And we want them to know that we’re here for them; we’re here to knock on doors to let them know you’re not insignificant. You are very important in this process and you will shape our future,” said Council President Joyce Watterman.