NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – A census car caravan promises to be a festive, high-energy way for the city to urge residents to fill out their decennial questionnaire.
Underneath the fun event – which will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium on Joyce Kilmer Avenue – is a serious matter.
For New Brunswick, millions of dollars of federal aid for programs ranging from senior housing to transportation projects to school funding could be at stake – federal aid that is often distributed based on census data.
According to federal statistics, six of 10 New Brunswick households have not filled out the census.
That puts the city (40.1%) well behind the national (61.7%), state (63.6%) and county (68%) numbers in regard to self-response rate.
New Brunswick, whose population is about 55,000 according to the 2010 census, lags behind other similarly sized New Jersey cities such as Perth Amboy (55.8%), Plainfield (52.4%) and Vineland (64.4%).
In fact, of the 323 New Jersey municipalities being tracked by United States Census 2020 officials, New Brunswick ranks 290th. For comparison’s sake, Glen Rock, a small borough in Bergen County, leads the way with an 87.3% response rate.
The census, taken once every 10 years in the United States since 1790, gives the federal government a snapshot of each community. It’s a snapshot of where you lived as of April 1, 2020 – known as Census Day - and includes everyone who usually lives and sleeps in your home.
Not only is census data tied into things such as federal aid but it also determines representation in Washington. In fact, New Jersey lost a congressional seat in the 2010 census, reducing the state from 13 to 12 congressional districts.
Mayor Jim Cahill said during an interview in April that the 2010 census statistics even factored into how much COVID-19 equipment and supplies the city received from the federal stockpile.
Getting a complete census counting might prove more difficult in New Brunswick than most areas in the state.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office told TAPinto New Brunswick that it’s typical for undocumented and immigrant residents not to realize they need to fill out the census, and many tend to be apprehensive that the information will be forwarded to ICE or Homeland Security.
The thousands of Rutgers students who were sent home to initiate online learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic could present a challenge, too. According to Rutgers, about 17% of its student body comes from out of state.
A spokesman for the Mayor’s Office said it’s possible that many of them don’t know they are supposed to list New Brunswick as their home on their census questionnaire – even though they may have been several towns or states away on April 1.
Starting July 1 and running through Sept. 3, census takers will work with administrators at colleges, senior centers, prisons and other facilities that house large groups of people to make sure everyone is counted.
There is a signup page for Saturday's event, which is sponsored by the city, The Pride Center of New Jersey, The Puerto Rican Action Board, Hyacinth of NJ, New Brunswick Tomorrow, The United Way of Centeral New Jersey and The NAACP.