Since last year, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) and leaders have been crisscrossing the state, helping to emphasize the importance of the upcoming 2020 Census. Fellow nonprofits are holding trainings, town leaders are speaking up and innovative marketing tools such as the World’s First Fairy Trail Census are being held in an effort to spread the word. Though still months away, now is the time to start raising awareness to ensure that everyone is counted.
The census, a constitutionally mandated decennial count of every person in the United States, does more than just determine how many people are living in the country at a given point in time. Billions of federal dollars are allocated to the states using census data for the next ten years. Programs such as Head Start, as well as Title I and special education funding, all rely on this funding that uses census data. These data also help determine the amount of political representation a state receives. Having proper representation ensures that the state has a strong voice in the federal arena.
The census drives important decisions that affect us all. When residents are missed in the count, we stand to lose out on our fair share of funding for vital service programs for the next ten years. After the 2010 census count, New Jersey lost a seat in Congress.
Undercounts happen for a variety of reasons, including distrust of government entities, language barriers and the inherent difficulty of counting certain populations. That is why ACNJ is encouraging everyone to identify the barriers that cause these undercounts and help overcome them before March 2020 — when census mailers will be sent.
Statewide Efforts About 22% of New Jersey residents, or almost 1.9 million people, live in hard-to-count areas, or areas where the response rate for the 2010 census was 73% or less. Roughly 150,000 children under the age of five live in these hard-to-count communities. New Jersey is ramping up efforts to try to reach these communities. For the 2020 census, Gov. Phil Murphy has dedicated $9 million of the state budget to census outreach and education opportunities, to ensure an accurate count.
New Jersey has also enacted additional statewide efforts to ensure New Jersey gets its fair share. The newly established Complete Count Commission, consisting of 27 members, has a mission to ensure a complete count for the state. Per the statute that created the commission, it “shall be the duty of the commission to develop, recommend, and assist in the administration of a census outreach strategy to encourage full participation in the 2020 federal decennial census of population.” Efforts include general communications outreach and grant opportunities for both nonprofits and county governments.
Communities are also encouraged to come forward and form Complete Count Committees, helping to get a complete count of all residents in a given area. Members should consist of individuals from all sectors, including government agencies, schools, libraries, nonprofits, faith groups, the business community and more, who can help identify what might prevent a complete count. After identifying the obstacles at stake, members can then identify resources and strategies to help mitigate these issues.
The Role of Schools Schools are a perfect resource for stressing the importance of the census. As trusted individuals, teachers and administrators can help educate parents and guardians on the need for everyone to be counted, while also teaching children about the count. Teachers and administrators also have the perfect opportunity to give continual reminders to caregivers to fill out the census forms through regular communications and interactive teaching methods with the students.
School leaders and administrators can support their teachers by encouraging them to explore the many resources the U.S. Census Bureau has available at Statistics in School (SIS). These free interactive activities, developed by teachers and subject matter experts across the country, can be used for the 2019-2020 school year to help educate both students and parents. They are available in both English and Spanish, are tailored to each grade from pre-K to grade 12 and help students build skills in subjects such as history, math, geography and English, all while learning about this civic duty.
New Jersey residents, both citizens and those without a legal status, should expect to receive a census invitation in the mail in early March 2020 with instructions on how to fill out the census survey online or by phone. Most households will be able to complete the questionnaire in ten minutes. If a household does not respond by late April 2020, it is more likely that a census representative, known as an enumerator, will visit to ask the questions in person in order to count the individuals living at that address. Responses to the census are protected and kept confidential by federal law.
Helping students understand the questions that are asked on the census, such as the name, age, sex, race/ethnicity and relationship to the head of the household, as well as whether the family rents or owns the house, can help empower them to alleviate any concerns their caregivers might have.
Adult ESL students can benefit from the SIS materials as well. An educator guide offers information on how a teacher might use the materials with their adult students. Activities that are appropriate for the age group aid the students’ understanding of the English language and the 2020 census, including a take-home portion that encourages the student to share their newfound knowledge with family and friends.
ACNJ is the leader in the Census 2020 NJ Coalition, a statewide outreach and awareness campaign to coordinate nonprofits and community-based efforts to ensure an accurate 2020 Census count for our state. The Census 2020 NJ Coalition is working together with the State of New Jersey Complete Count Commission and the U.S. Census Bureau to make sure the public has clear, accurate information about the importance of the upcoming Census.
To help outreach efforts, ACNJ has developed a webpage with flyers, brochures, presentations and toolkits to better inform individuals of the benefits of a full count. The materials explain why the 2020 Census is so important and encourages families to count all children, especially newborns and children who live in complex households, such as extended family households, multiple families, or separated parents with shared custody.
Currently, ACNJ is developing a resource toolkit for educators to use with families with young children under five years old, including printable stickers and links to third-party materials. These resources and helpful information for advocates who want to play a greater role in census activities will be available at acnj.org/census2020nj.org
The 2020 Census will determine the state’s future for the next ten years. It’s important that we all work together to make sure that New Jersey gets its fair share. For more information, contact Mary Coogan, ACNJ vice president.