Three weeks before the census deadline to count the population, a $50 Shop Rite gift card inspired Newark residents to line up outside the main library and give their information.
“I heard about it this morning and I wrote the address and came down here,” resident William Holloway said. “Fifty dollars was my incentive.”
Fanni Wilkie came with her three children. She has no internet service at home, but she was determined to take the census.
“I feel that the city needs help,” she said. “Education, funding, it’s a lot.”
Newark and its community partners are offering incentives to raise census taking and get an accurate count of the population, even among folks considered hard to count or those who are unwilling to take part.
“Often times, people who have not completed the census at this stage are resistant or hesitant to completing the census because of their concerns, fears, distrust for government. Or because they are swamped with many other priorities in their lives,” said Peter Chen, Census 2020 New Jersey Coalition coordinator.
Advocates, including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, are forging ahead with door knocking, incentives and creative outreach in the COVID era.
At the state level there’s been a huge push to get New Jersey residents counted.
“We have deployed mobile billboards which travel throughout New Jersey focusing on the hard to count areas, reminding everyone to complete their respective census,” said New Jersey Secretary Of State Tahesha Way. “We’ve also had a campaign, a social media campaign, which dealt with the theme weeks, tuned to various aspects of how the census impacts our residents’ lives.”
Way says New Jersey launched its accurate count campaign last year, collaborating with dozens of government and community partners.
“I am happy to see that as of today, New Jersey has exceed the 2010 self-response rate,” she said. “We’re now at 67.7%, but we still know that we have ways to go.”
The end of October is the usual cutoff for counting. This year, President Donald Trump shortened it by a month. But, over the weekend, a federal court blocked the Census Bureau from shutting down early and set a hearing for next week. Advocates worry because that order only restores accuracy checks for now.
“If you’re missing some of these administrative records or follow-ups, it’s not necessarily clear how accurate the count is,” Chen said. “It will be exceedingly difficult to get every person, and particularly the very hard to count populations, counted by Sept. 30 because of the compressed time window.”
Newark looking to keep its status as New Jersey’s biggest city one questionnaire at a time.