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NYC Should Take a Second Chance on the Census

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New York’s official 2010 Census results came in yesterday far below expectations, stumping politicians and city planners alike. While the Census Bureau estimate puts New York’s population at 8.175 million, city officials expected the number to be closer to 8.4 million.

Mayor Bloomberg told the Daily News, "We don't quite understand the numbers. It just doesn't make any sense at all."

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz confessed to reporters, "I have to tell you I'm flabbergasted. I know they made a big, big mistake."

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went further, arguing that the Census "has never known how to count urban populations and needs to go back to the drawing board."

What happened? Preliminary analysis finds that the undercount was located in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, including Corona, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Recent and undocumented immigrants are traditionally among the hardest to count populations; some immigrants hesitate to reveal personal information to the government, while others simply lack knowledge about the importance of the count. In addition, immigrants are more likely than native-born New Yorkers to live in overcrowded or irregular housing conditions that are particularly difficult for census workers to reach. Such challenges prompted an unprecedented outreach campaign from city agencies, businesses and community-based groups designed to boost participation among immigrant New Yorkers.

An accurate census is more than a simple population count, or a matter of civic duty. The census yields tangible economic benefits for the city, which means a significant undercount could have staggering consequences. Excluding over 225,000 residents from the census could cost New York millions in state and federal aid for schools, hospitals and other critical public services linked to population data. Private sector organizations also rely on census information; imprecise data on immigrant may discourage businesses from investing in new markets and creating jobs in growing neighborhoods.

Most importantly, the 2010 Census count serves as the foundation for population estimates that inform government and business decisions for the next decade. We can’t afford to let thousands of New Yorkers go uncounted. In many ways, Census data is at the foundation of continuing economic recovery.

Luckily, NYC has another shot at an accurate census that captures population shifts in immigrant neighborhoods. The city has until June 1st to issue a legal challenge of the figures; if successful, the challenge will result in an officially revised count to be used for future government programs that require official data, as well as population estimates until 2020. Mayor Bloomberg should take this opportunity to get the census right. A full count of recent and undocumented immigrants missed in the 2010 Census is in all New Yorkers’ economic interest.