Why New Yorkers should be proud of the 2020 Census Results
By: Patricia A. Swann, Co-Chair, New York State Census Equity Fund and Senior Program Officer, The New York Community Trust
The 2020 Census results released last week were bittersweet—the state lost a congressional seat, and did so by the barest of margins--89 people.
But rather than being disappointed, the unprecedented coalition of New Yorkers who came together to get out the count for this census have much to be proud of. Here’s why:
We could have lost two seats. Based on birth, death, and immigration data from the American Communities Survey, Census authorities predicted last July that New York was likely to lose two congressional seats. But the state only lost one seat thanks to the efforts of those who came together through the New York State Census Equity Fund (NYSCEF) in The New York Community Trust--as well as our allies in the philanthropic and business communities, New York City and county governments across the state, and most importantly our fellow New Yorkers who talked to neighbors, knocked on doors, and spoke at neighborhood gatherings. This is especially impressive considering the need to deploy creative strategies to connect when social gathering was impossible.
We bucked an 80-year trend. The 2020 census marked the first time in eight decades the state did not lose two congressional seats. While New York is not gaining population as rapidly as many states in the south and west, we still had a net statewide population growth of 4.2 percent, thanks to international immigration.
We did well in a very tough year. New Yorkers worked hard to ensure all of our people were counted and the final tally was better than expectations during a census year that could not have been harder. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of a few senior level state officials, the state’s attempts to provide funding to counties and nonprofits for get-out-the-count work came too late. When the mechanism was finally in place and several counties were poised to receive state money, the actual disbursement of the funds was preempted by the pandemic. This is understandable--being the nation’s first COVID epicenter required total focus by the governor and his staff. Unfortunately, the end result was that the state’s get-out-the-count funding wasn’t released until August, with just a few weeks left in the census calendar. In fairness, the state also directed considerable in-kind support from SUNY and other state agencies, but the on-again, off-again commitment of state support for nonprofit get-out-the-count efforts was a missed opportunity, especially for groups outside of New York City.
In the coming months, we look forward to analyzing how our Get Out The Count efforts compare to other states. It’s worth noting that states that did not support get out the count efforts, such as Florida and Arizona, did not pick up as many congressional seats as had been predicted.
We are pleased to share an independent evaluation of NYSCEF activities over the past three years. An addendum will follow once there is information available to do a deeper analysis of county-level census results within each state.
The New York State Census Equity Fund in the New York Community Trust is now turning its attention to the important work of making sure the newly drawn congressional and state legislative districts in our state are fair and truly reflect their communities. This year will be the first time in a decade that all New Yorkers will be able to have a say in how these districts are drawn, thanks to a 2014 voter-approved state constitutional amendment that created a quasi-independent redistricting commission. Through grants to the CUNY Mapping Center (and more grants to come), we will make sure that we are engaging New Yorkers to strengthen our democracy from the ground up.