The 2010 Census Is
Critical for New Jersey
By Wilda Diaz
Mayor, Perth Amboy
Deputy Chair, League Census
2010 Awareness Committee
Beginning in 1790, the United States Constitution has required a national census to be conducted every ten years. This is contained in Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Although the census collects a great deal of data, its prime focus is the enumeration of the population of the United States. The count is to be taken on April 1 of each decennial year, and must be complete within nine months to allow for the apportionment and redistricting of legislative representatives. This can be found in 13 USC 141.
In addition to establishing legislative districts, the census count also establishes the basis for the distribution of federal resources to the states and local communities. Every year over $400 billion in federal funds is disseminated to the states and communities based on census population numbers.
Census 2010 has significant consequences for New Jersey and my home town of Perth Amboy. Irrespective of who is holding elective office in New Jersey, Census 2010 will have an impact on our state for the next 10 years. For example, even though New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, according to some prognosticators, we will lose at least one congressional seat as a result of reapportionment due to the Census 2010 population count. The results of the census will also affect our Electoral College votes and our state and municipal legislative districts. The ability of our elective leaders to advocate for their constituencies will be hampered or enhanced by the results of Census 2010, for at least until 2020.
Additionally, the federal government’s support for education, health services, the arts, transportation, and other services, throughout the nation, are determined by the census enumeration of the national population.
It is therefore imperative that we in New Jersey are diligent in making sure that Census 2010 does an accurate count of our state’s population. We in Perth Amboy have tried to be proactive in this endeavor. We had municipal staff meet with experts on the census from other communities to develop a plan of action in February of 2009 for a more effective count of our population. In April 2009, we met with representatives of Census 2010 to form partnerships between the municipal government, community based organizations and the census. When we found structural impediments within Census 2010, we reached out to their regional leadership to address these issues.
However, this has been a continuing problem. An example of how New Jersey is perceived by the census administration is that New Jersey has no Census Information Center (CIC) but has a larger population than 16 of the 24 states or territories which have CICs. There are three CICs in New York City alone, but there are none in New Jersey
Perth Amboy has been impacted negatively, by, what we are certain was, a severe undercount of our city’s population in the 2000 census. Since federal funds are distributed to our communities based on these very important population numbers, this undercount had a devastating effect on our city. The result of this undercount is that the City of Perth Amboy has been short-changed over the past decade when it came to
getting money for education, childcare, health care, public transportation, road construction, emergency food and shelter and much, much more.
When we met with Census 2010 officials, we presented them with a report that clearly showed that, based on its public school enrollment numbers, Perth Amboy projects a total population of over 61,000 people, but the 2000 Census listed its population at 47,303. Due to this undercount in 2000, Perth Amboy may have lost out on millions of dollars in federal funding during the last 10 years. Since Perth Amboy has the highest unemployment rate in Central New Jersey, and has nearly 400 homes in foreclosure, these missing Federal funding opportunities have had a negative impact on our municipal government’s ability to help our residents more effectively.
According to the census, Perth Amboy has an abundance of what they describe as “Hard to Count” populations. These are defined as African Americans, Hispanics (who are 4 times more likely to be undercounted as non-Hispanic Whites), low Income people, non-citizens and undocumented immigrants. In the 2000 Census, Perth Amboy had a response rate of 64 percent, which is below the New Jersey response rate of 67 percent. However, we believe that the Perth Amboy response rate may have been even lower, because residents of unregistered dwellings may not even have received the census questionnaires.
Because of the national economic crisis, the number of unregistered or illegal dwellings may increase, which may have a bearing on the willingness of these residents to respond to any governmental correspondence. Obviously, this is the same scenario with the undocumented alien population. Their natural distrust of any government official makes it unlikely that they would voluntarily comply with any request for information about themselves or their families.
Another impediment to a more successful count of our population has been the language barrier. Perth Amboy has always been a community comprised of immigrants. Although Spanish is the predominate language spoken by our immigrant population, we have substantial numbers of immigrants from Central and Southern Europe and Brazil. Without competent language assistance, the response rate to the census questionnaire may be hampered. Because of this, Perth Amboy was the first municipality to launch Census 2010 in Spanish, with the assistance of New York Region Census Officials and Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
In order to address these challenges, the Perth Amboy Municipal government has partnered with Census 2010, and has assigned staff to spearhead this effort. The city has assisted Census 2010 in identifying community representatives to serve on the Census 2010 Complete Count Committee for Perth Amboy. We sought people who are well known and trusted in their respective constituencies, not necessarily people who were prominent in private or public sector organizations. The city has offered the use of its Cable Access Television Channel to film representatives of these communities explaining the importance of the census and the questionnaire process. These programs will be aired continuously.
Other Perth Amboy Municipal Government initiatives for the census include: scheduled training sessions on the census, to be held this spring and fall for our city employees and municipal board members; inviting Census 2010 to all of our local festivals, parades, fairs and community events; and making municipal facilities available for testing sites for potential census workers in Perth Amboy.
Our Public School District is also engaged in this endeavor. The census and its role, has been included in the curriculum this year, in the hope that children will play a role in bringing the message home to their families.
The city has also reached out to the business community, including the “bodegueros” and taxi companies, with the goal of them transmitting the message of the importance of the census to their clients and patrons. Furthermore, the city has enlisted the cooperation of non-profit organizations, the medical community, the faith-based community and our seniors to deliver the message of how vital an accurate count by Census 2010 in Perth Amboy will be to our community.
Our administration is willing to work with the U.S. Census, the state, the League of Municipalities and anyone else who can lend a helping hand to make the 2010 Census a success for our community. That success means that there will be a legitimate and accurate count of Perth Amboy’s population by Census 2010, where no one is left out.
We have information about where to go for those jobs on the City of Perth Amboy website: www.ci.perthamboy.nj.us.
For all elected officials in New Jersey, getting Census 2010 to conduct an accurate count of our state should be one of their top priorities. There is too much at stake for our state and all of our communities.
This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 2, February 2010