Counting Down to New York Census Battle

Results Show Growth of Only 1,300 Residents in Queens Over the Last Decade

Since the 2010 Census results on New York’s population were released, the Mayor’s office has been crunching the numbers and preparing an official appeal. The count, they say, is far too low—especially in Queens. If an appeal is rejected, the city could head to court.

“Our administration has been looking at the Census numbers non-stop since they were released last Thursday,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “And we can now say that we plan to formally challenge the Census results for our city.”

Following the 1990 Census, New York City filed a lawsuit that claimed the population had been undercounted. The results cost the city valuable federal funding based on population. The United States Supreme Court finally heard the case in 1996, and allowed the original numbers to stand.

In contrast, the 2000 Census confirmed a growth spurt of nearly 300,000 people—unmatched since the 1920s, when the city’s population more than doubled from 470,000 residents. While a cleaner and more attractive city—one with noticeably less crime—was likely at the heart of the growth in the 1990s, the numbers may have also reflected a conscious push for Census participation.

After a vast public push for participation leading up to the 2010 Census, the reported numbers seem dismal, politicians said.

The 2010 Census reported New York City growing by only about 166,000 people. In Queens, the population rose by a paltry 1,343 people.

The city’s elected officials have been quick to denounce the results.

“Given the construction boom that has taken place over the past decade, the determination that Queens gained a little more than 1,300 residents would be laughable if it didn’t come with such serious consequences,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), reflecting the sentiment of more than 40 New York politicians denouncing the Census results in a press release from Bloomberg’s office.

The Census count is used to determine congressional representation, as well as eligibility for federal funding. According to Bloomberg, a successful appeal wouldn’t change the process of determining representation, but it will allow New York to receive a larger amount of federal dollars.

“The Census numbers simply don’t add up,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “It is critical that the Census Bureau gets this count right. Over the past decade, the last Census undercount cost New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funding. And we may stand to lose more critical funding over the next ten years.”

City officials claim that the Census results overstated the number of vacant properties in Queens—an increase of more than 20,000 vacant homes, for a total of 55,010 vacancies—and likely failed to account for the immigrant population’s fewer responses.

“I believe that many in our immigrant population still did not participate in the count due, in part, to privacy issues and language barriers,” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said. “I believe that Queens has traditionally been undercounted and continues to be. I invite Census officials who believe that our population is stagnant to go on tour with me and discover the difference.”

Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said he can’t fault the Census workers for the low count; they were at community meetings and asking people to fill out their forms. Still, he said, the numbers are “alarming.”

“There’s no individual penalty for not doing the Census, but there is a collective one,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are going to say ‘How can we enforce participation’ but on the other hand we risk alienating immigrants.”

Wendell said the Census should provide a list of addresses where there were no responses, and allow the city or community groups to try and amend the count.

“Walking through the block [in Woodhaven], you don’t see a shortage of cars; either people own more cars, or we have more people,” Wendell said. “And for every abandoned house, you also hear about illegal conversions.”

Tony Farthing, the New York’s regional director for the Census, said that the small growth in population is likely accurate. “We feel we did a very good job,” he said. “If people don’t mail their forms in, we go and knock on their door. We’ve gotten a lot of complaints because we’re too persistent.”

Farthing said the low numbers are representative of national trends, but also that they reflect the tumultuous housing market the last few years.

“We had a lot of things going on in 2010. We had foreclosures going on and immigrants leaving—we had a decline in Black residents as well,” he said. “The thing about the Census is that sometimes you don’t know things are happening until the results are out, and sometimes the results are surprising.”

According to the Census, New York City had a response rate of 58 percent, up 5 percent from the 2000 Census. In 2008, the Census estimated the population of Queens at just under 2,300,000 people—62,000 people more than the 2010 Census recorded. According to the Census, there were just under 18,000 new homes built in Queens, while there are now more than 20,000 new vacancies.

“Common sense is lacking in this Census formula and before these numbers go to print there should be a serious review of this methodology that greatly affects our city’s funding,” Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “In a time where every penny counts New York City should not be shortchanged.”

The Census will begin accepting appeals form all jurisdictions challenging the results in June.

-Written by David J. Harvey


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