census sign
A census sign at the Winthrop Street subway station in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Sam Bojarski)

By Jonathan Greig

The 2020 Census is well underway, with more than half the country already filling it out online or through the mail. But the coming undercount, which most experts are predicting, will have drastic effects on the recovery effort, particularly in Haitian neighborhoods hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

The spread of COVID-19 continues to devastate communities across the country but the virus has had a particularly disastrous effect on the 2020 Census, which began in earnest with the self-response phase on March 12.  

For the first time in U.S. history, people will be able to fill out the census online at 2020census.gov and over the phone, giving residents even more options to be counted beyond mail-in forms and in-person visits from census enumerators. 

The additional modes of response were created in an effort to cut down on repeated undercounts of immigrant and Black communities, which are having noticeable effects on the coronavirus response from healthcare systems across New York state. 

Part of why healthcare systems in Black and immigrant neighborhoods have been stressed beyond their capacity in dealing with the virus relates directly to previous undercounts in the 2010 and 2000 census

Every 10 years, the data gathered from the census is used to divvy up nearly $800 billion in funding that goes toward regulating almost every aspect of life — from schools, hospitals and roads to the number of Congressional representatives. 

“The census impacts health, hospitals, children and insurance programs. When you look at things that we’ll be needing like vaccines and testing, census data will play a prominent role in forecasting the quantities that we need and in what communities,” said Kathleen Daniel, New York City Census 2020 field director and a Haitian-American herself. 

“In 2010, the self-response rate for New York City was about 50 percent. When we look at Canarsie in Brooklyn it is among the lowest counts that we have right now in Brooklyn, as it was 10 years ago. It came in at around 36 percent self-response rate, partially due to immigrant communities not trusting or being concerned about immigration and ICE while not being familiar with the impact of the census.”


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Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a journalist based in New York City working as a contributing writer for CBS Interactive. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia...