CAMDEN, NJ – The undocumented. The homeless population. Children under five. Less than three months from the nationwide census count, these are just some of the people who raise concerns for organizers in Camden.

“We need to count everyone, and I mean everyone” Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, who is heading efforts in the city, told TAPinto Camden this week. “If you go to school here, if you drive on these roads, if you walk on these sidewalks…this will impact you."

On April 1, roughly half a million census workers will embark on a decade-defining count throughout the country with $675 billion in annual allocated funds hanging in the balance.

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Funds are used for public health, education, and transportation improvements. An accurate count also has implications for businesses considering where to open new locations.

Per New Jersey law, the census data determines the number of voting seats a state gets in the House of Representatives and the electoral college. A decade ago, the Garden State was among those that lost a congressional seat.

Rodriguez and the county is working to partner with local organizations and leaders to do their part in preparing the public for the count. These include the Hispanic Family Center of Southern NJ, the Community Planning and Advocacy Council, and the Center for Family Services.

Still, the Freeholder says there’s much more to do.

“We are today where we should have been a year ago. So, we have a lot of work to do,” she said at the Cramer Hill Community Center. “If you’re using Camden services, and we don’t count you, we’re going to have less money to fix those streets and sidewalks, less money to beautify our parks.”

Rodriguez said she has held information sessions with the Local Complete Count Committee, as well as ambassador training for those interested in getting the word out. She has also applied with the county for $40,000 to help pay for efforts, including staffing.

“We're putting such a heavy influence here in the city because we know the neighborhoods typically undercounted,” added Rodriguez. 

A census’ “Hard to Count” map online -- color-coding Camden’s neighborhoods based on mail-in returns -- put Whitman Park and Morgan Village among neighborhoods with a 0-65% mail-in return rate during the last census.

Parkside, Fairview, East Camden and Ablett Village reported a 65-73% return rate.

Educating the public

Plans to get the public up to speed on the census began last summer.

Rodriguez said the first phase has meant getting the word out by posting fliers and online with #CamdenCountsToo or #CamdenTambienCuenta.

Phase 2, she said, will begin soon and comprise a flier with more detailed bullet points about the count and a “statement of safety” in hopes of quelling fears from members of the public over how the government will use their data.

Phase 3 is what Rodriguez called the “final push" and will have Camden school children sent home with stickers on April 1 that read something to the effect of “I Count You Know” as a final reminder to parents.

Tough to count

Challenges inherent with such a count includes tallying those living below the poverty line. This presents a unique challenge in Camden, where the homeless population numbers have been staggering in years past. 

According to New Jersey’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless, which is carried out every Jan. 22, of the 585 homeless people in the county approximately 482 were in the municipality of Camden.

The next closest was Winslow with 65.

There are also people taking up residence beyond the legal limits or undocumented individuals afraid information on the census may be used to deport them.

The African American and Hispanic populations in Camden made up 70,926 of the 77,344 people in the last census count.

Although unsuccessful, the Trump administrations’ attempts to add a census question about citizenship status have also led to trepidation.

However, the US Census Bureau assures visitors to its site that it will never ask for a person’s Social Security number, money, donations, anything on behalf of a political party or their bank or credit card number.

“I understand the fear, but the reality is that those enumerators are sworn not to reveal anything, or else face a fine of up to $250,000 and five years of incarceration. The information is highly protected,” Rodriguez said.

Moreover, census files remain sealed for 72 years following the count.

Among the census 2020 inquiries are the number of people living or staying in your home, whether your home is owned or rented, the sex, age and race of each person in your home, whether the person in your home is Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin, and the relationship of each person in your home.

What’s changed since 2010

For the first time since the census began in 1790, members of the public will be able to answer the census online and census workers will use mobile phone apps in the field. You can also opt for in-the-mail or over the phone.

Most should receive census instructions by March.

Whereas in 2010 census workers went door to door with handheld devices, 2020 workers will update addresses on laptops, phones and tablets.

Camden County External Affairs Manager Kyle Sullender said, “The goal will be to draw as many as 9,000 applicants [to assist], but only about 3,000 enumerators will be assigned in Camden County.”

Sullender emphasized the incentive for prospective census workers.

“The same way [organizers] want trusted folks to be ambassadors to go out and spread the word, the Bureau is looking for trusted members of the community who show up and try to get the count as well,” he noted.

Two months after announcing an hourly rate of $16.50 in October, last month the County said census positions in Camden County now pay between $17.50 and $20 an hour depending on the position.

Officials said anyone interested in helping get the word out in the city can contact the Department of Human Services at (856) 757-7498. Those interested in jobs can visit 2020census.gov/jobs.