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Booker, Menendez, Pascrell Lead New Jersey Delegation Letter Concerning 2020 Census Response Rates

June 24, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-09), along with Reps. Donald Norcross (NJ-01), Jeff Van Drew (NJ.-02), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ -12) sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross regarding growing concerns about the 2020 Census self-response rates in New Jersey especially in light of the potential addition of a citizenship question to the census. These concerns and the information requested are urgent following a June 2019 report from the Census Bureau that estimated that “the addition of a citizenship question will have an 8.0 percentage point larger effect on self-response rates” which could lead to “increasing costs and reducing the quality of the population count.” An 8 percent decrease in census responses among households with a noncitizen translates to nearly 9 million people. The delegation is aggressively pushing for additional information to ensure that the U.S. Census Bureau is taking the necessary steps to ensure that every person in New Jersey is counted.

 

“As you are aware, an accurate Census is not only a constitutional responsibility of the federal government, but its measurements determine the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, guide the allocation of more than $880 billion annually in federal funds, and are used to draw legislative districts within the state. The failure by the Bureau to address the issues facing an accurate count in New Jersey could have devastating effects in protecting the rights of our constituents and deprive them of critical federal funding for food security, school funding, first responders, and other services determined by federal formulas,” the Members wrote.

 

The full text of the letter is available here.



June 24, 2019

 

The Honorable Wilbur Ross, Jr
Secretary 
US Department of Commerce 
101 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington DC 20230

Dear Secretary Ross: 

We write to you with concerns about 2020 Census self-response rates in New Jersey, and seeking information regarding steps that the U.S. Census Bureau is taking in order to ensure that every person is counted, including in hard to count areas in our state. On June 11, 2019[1], the Bureau announced the initiation of the 2019 Census Test, during which approximately 480,000 households will be surveyed in order to provide data to be used to refine operations and strategy ahead of the 2020 Census. Additionally, half of the housing units in the 2019 Census Test sample, randomly selected, will be asked to complete a form that includes a citizenship question, measuring the impact of whether this question will impact self-response rates and the quality of responses.[2] We are deeply concerned by the obstacles the Bureau faces in conducting a full, fair, and accurate count of the U.S. population, and seek reassurance that Bureau is taking the necessary steps to mitigate these challenges.

We are acutely aware of the risks New Jersey faces in being undercounted, and how a low self-response rate could make it much harder for the Bureau to include all residents of our state in the final population totals. Based on the 2010 Census, approximately 22% of New Jerseyans live in the hardest to count neighborhoods in the country, or areas in which nearly one in four households did not mail back their questionnaires.[3] Additionally, New Jersey’s population of historically undercounted communities, including ethnic and racial minorities, is disproportionately higher than most other states, with approximately 20% of New Jerseyans identifying as Hispanic; 15% as black; 10% Asian; and 1% American Indian or Alaska Native.[4] Young children under the age of five in hard to count areas, widely acknowledged to have been undercounted in the last census[5], make up 28% of New Jersey’s total child population under 5 years of age.[6]  Further, low income and rural residents are even more at risk of being undercounted as the Bureau presses forward with online self-response, despite 14.7% of New Jerseyans reporting to have no access to home internet.[7] 

As you are aware, an accurate Census is not only a constitutional responsibility of the federal government, but its measurements determine the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, guide the allocation of more than $880 billion annually in federal funds, and are used to draw legislative districts within the state[8]. The failure by the Bureau to address the issues facing an accurate count in New Jersey could have devastating effects in protecting the rights of our constituents and deprive them of critical federal funding for food security, school funding, first responders, and other services determined by federal formulas.[9]

In light of these issues, we ask that you provide the following information no later than July 12, 2019: 

1.      What proportion of the 2019 Census Test sample is comprised of New Jersey households or housing units?

2.      A Census Bureau study of the 2010 Census found a net undercount of 2.1% of African Americans and 1.5% of Hispanic Americans, totally an estimated 1.5 million residents. An internal memo written by statisticians at the Bureau estimates that the addition of a citizenship question could exacerbate this undercount, leading to undercounting an additional 6.5 million residents[10], comprised mostly of Hispanic American and immigrant populations. Given New Jersey’s population of historically undercounted communities is disproportionately higher than most other states, what are your current predictions on the response rate for the 2019 Census Test with the addition of a citizenship question in New Jersey? 

3.      When did the Bureau make the decision to measure the effects of the citizenship question in the 2019 Census Test?  What are the costs associated with this new addition?

4.      Does the Bureau anticipate the need for additional resources to complete the 2019 Census Test successfully? 

a.      In addition to our questions, we ask that the Census Bureau provide us with weekly updates on the 2019 Census Test response rates and whether the citizenship question has affected those rates. 

5.      What additional resources does Census anticipate will be necessary to meet expanded 2020 Census Nonresponse Follow-up (NRFU) activities created by a potential citizenship question?

 

We appreciate your attention to these pressing matters­­­­­, and we look forward to your response. 

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[2] We oppose the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.