New Analysis: New York City Achieves Historic Census Self-Response Rate in 2020 Amidst Ongoing Attacks from Trump Administration

City will remain vigilant regarding final census results and ongoing litigation attempting to exclude immigrants from the congressional apportionment count

NEW YORK -- NYC Census 2020 announced today neighborhood-level self-response data based on the City of New York’s first-of-its-kind campaign that sought to ensure a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers in a decennial census.

As of Saturday, October 17, 2020, New York City registered a historic 61.8% self-response rate to the 2020 Census, a figure that far outpaced most major cities in the United States, as well as the Census Bureau’s own pre-COVID estimate for self-response in the New York City metro area, which was 58%. New Yorkers achieved this rate in spite of New York City being the epicenter of a global pandemic during the first two months of the census period and following never-before-seen court battles regarding the census that ultimately culminated in the Supreme Court cutting the census short in the weeks following the passage of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New York City’s self-response rate is higher than that of most major demographically-similar cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Houston, and Dallas, among others.

“We are very proud of the strong finish for New York in this national contest for resources and representation.  Given the dire fiscal situation our city faces post COVID, every household of more than two persons who responded to the census means approximately $7,000 for our city,” said Julie Menin, Director of NYC Census 2020 and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel, NYC Law Department. “That’s why we will very closely monitor final census results when they’re released on December 31. We know that cutting the census short created a number of challenges for the U.S. Census Bureau’s door-knocking operation and we will fight to ensure that New Yorkers receive their fair share of federal funding and political representation.”

“Our campaign has laid a powerful foundation for all the residents of New York City, from Parkchester to Flatbush to Sunnyside, to organize and obtain the money, power, and respect that are rightfully ours – and none of that can be taken from us,” said Deputy Director Amit Singh Bagga, NYC Census 2020. “We pioneered a new model to serve New Yorkers of all demographic and linguistic backgrounds, creating a foundation for the City to build an expansive and deep civic engagement infrastructure that can last beyond the census.”

“CUNY’s historic collaboration with City and State officials throughout this year to ensure that every New Yorker’s voice, particularly those in hard-to-count zip codes, would be heard in the 2020 Census is a matter of immense pride for the University,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Despite an unprecedented pandemic that laid bare systemic inequities and of political maneuvers that cut the count short, we could not be prouder of the work that CUNY’s team — including 260 students who were part of CUNY Census Corp — did to ensure that New York gets the federal funding it deserves, especially as it rebounds from this ongoing pandemic.”

Non-Response Follow-Up (“NRFU”)

It should be noted that the self-response rate does not include the households that have been counted through the United States Census Bureau’s NRFU (or “door-knocking”) period, which lasted from approximately August 6 through the week of October 12, 2020, and that the total percentage of households counted in the 2020 Census in New York City is higher than 61.8%. The final calculation of what this percentage is will, as of now, only be presented to the President, Congress, and the public, on / after December 31, 2020. New York City will be closely monitoring all developments regarding the final accounting of census figures, and reserves the right to contest them, if and as needed.

Key Campaign Achievements: By the Numbers

  • Historic self-response: 61.8% self-response, surpassing no fewer than a dozen major cities in the U.S., as well as the Census Bureau’s pre-COVID estimate for self-response in the NYC metro area
  • More than seven million: More than seven million texts have been sent to New Yorkers reminding them to complete the census and/or assisting them with completing the census
  • More than four million: More than four million calls have been made to New Yorkers reminding them to complete the census and/or assisting them with completing the census
  • More than two million: We called 2.6 million landlines in New York City to remind New Yorkers to complete the census
  • Approximately one million New Yorkers: Close to one million New Yorkers directly clicked on our digital advertisements directly linking viewers to the Census Bureau’s self-response page
  • Approximately half-a-million households: More than 470,000 New York City households, representing no less than 1.23 million New Yorkers, have been counted or directly assisted as a result of NYC Census 2020’s Campaign. This does not include New Yorkers who completed the census after seeing or hearing a NYC Census 2020 ad campaign.
  • Up to $7,000: The amount lost per household that is not counted in the census New York City
  • More than 1,000: NYC Census 2020 and its partners organized or participated in more than 1,000 events in under a year, both in-person and virtual, regarding census participation
  • 34 and 27: NYC Census designed and launched a record-breaking 34 media campaigns in 27 languages -- the most the City has ever done -- to reach all New Yorkers, no matter where they’re from or what language they speak. PSAs featured figures like Cardi B and Alicia Keys.
  • Three out of Five: Number of boroughs surpassing their 2010 response rates (Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island)
  • 213 out of 245 (87%): Number of neighborhoods that are within five points, at, or several points above their 2010 response rates (of these, 132 neighborhoods are ahead of their 2010 rates)
  • 157: Number of NYC Complete Count Fund awardees -- collectively, the recipients of $16 million funding for census education, outreach, organizing, and advocacy
  • 80+: Number of languages in which NYC Complete Count Fund awardees serve New Yorkers
  • 16: Number of Citywide Partners -- key partners responsible for developing strategy, identifying resources and tactics, as well as implementation and amplification

Key Organizational Partners, Including Council-Designated Citywide Partners

The City expresses its very special thanks to the Citywide Partner Group, which consists of 15 organizations funded discretionarily by the City Council, as well as the City University of New York, with whom the City worked to develop a citywide strategy for turning out self-response and implemented tactics across various sectors and communities to ensure increases in self-response were achieved.

Thank you to:

ABNY (Melva Miller, Aliya Bhatia, and Steven Rubenstein)

City University of New York (Chancellor Matos Rodríguez, John Mogulescu, Gary Dine, John Mollenkopf, and Colette Labrador)

Asian American Foundation (Jo-Ann Yoo, Howard Shih, and Mariam Rauf)

FPWA (Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq. and Yolanda Richard)

Asian Americans for Equality (Jennifer Sun and Thomas Yu)

Hester Street (Betsy MacLean and Vanessa Monique Smith)

Brooklyn NAACP (L. Joy Williams)

Hispanic Federation (Frankie Miranda and Emely Paez)

Center for Law & Social Justice, Medgar Evers College (Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. and Esmeralda Simmons)

Make the Road - NY (Tony Alarcon, Javier Valdés, Deborah Axt, Theo Oshiro, and Daniel Altschuler)

Chinese-American Planning Council (Wayne Ho and Amy Torres)

New York Immigration Coalition (Meeta Anand, Murad Awawdeh, Steve Choi, Betsy Plum)

Community Resource Exchange (Katie Leonberger, Louisa Hackett, and George Hsieh)

NALEO Educational Fund (Juan Rosa)

United Neighborhood Houses 
(Susan Stamler, Lena Cohen, and Nora Moran)

United Way of New York City (Sheena Wright, Lemuria Alawode-El, Lesleigh Irish-Underwood, Rucha Gadre, Melina Pope)

The City also expresses deep gratitude for all of its partners in the labor movement, who were very active in census outreach with their members and chiefly represented by the Central Labor Council.

In addition, many elected officials across the city demonstrated deep commitment to achieving a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers before and during the census period; the City expresses its deep gratitude to elected officials at all levels of government for their advocacy, commitment, and tireless efforts.

Remaining Vigilant

With these successes, New York City remains hyper-vigilant about the next steps for the census, which is not yet over. The Census Bureau’s rushed data processing timeline of just two months is a cause for real concern. The de Blasio administration has previously called on Congress to extend the reporting deadline for census data, a move that is all the more necessary and urgent, considering that there is reportedly a large amount of door-knocking data that is thought to be inconsistent, incomplete, or inaccurate as a result of the shortened timeline.

In addition, the issue of whether or not the President will be successful in his attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the final count used to distribute the 435 seats in the House of Representatives across the 50 states remains as of yet undecided, and will be heard by the Supreme Court on November 30. An adverse decision from the Supreme Court on this matter would very negatively impact states and cities with large undocumented immigrants, including several largely Republican states.

New York City will continue to closely and carefully monitor these developments, and will explore any and all possible legal options available to hold the Census Bureau and Trump Administration to account should the City find that the final census count numbers warrant being contested.

Campaign response to COVID-19

The 2020 Census launched during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. NYC Census 2020 quickly and seamlessly pivoted, thanks to the campaign’s infrastructure. The campaign immediately expanded its investment in digital and direct messaging by doubling its investment in Hustle, a peer-to-peer texting tool, and by procuring a predictive dialer to allow for larger and more efficient phone banking. Additionally, NYC Census 2020 immediately renegotiated its subway advertising contract, reallocating $1.3 million towards mobile and digital advertising. When COVID-19 rates began to subside, the campaign quickly began safe in-person outreach, with a special focus on free food and PPE distribution sites across the city, which also served historically undercounted communities.

With the support of key strategic partners, the city’s campaign ran multiple contests to further mobilize New Yorkers to complete the census. Prizes included $1,000 Seamless gift cards, $50 Lyft credits, a one-year CitiBike membership, and a one-year MoMA membership. Over the course of the campaign, NYC Census 2020 also successfully developed and executed an unprecedented 34 different advertising and social media campaigns in 27 languages. Post-COVID, the City’s census office ran campaigns that specifically linked the census to health care and essential services, in addition to PSAs with figures like Cardi B and Alicia Keys that educated viewers on the census’ role in determining political representation.

Historic Response in Black Communities

This year, a large majority of Black communities throughout New York City exceeded their 2010 performance. Co-op City in The Bronx, for example, has a self-response rate of 76.1% today, meaning it is approximately 9.1 percentage points ahead of the current national average this year. Cambria Heights in Southeast Queens is now at 68.1%, over a full point ahead of the nation this year. These neighborhoods are of course also ahead of the citywide average this year, and are joined by Central Harlem, Laurelton, and Springfield Gardens in bearing this distinction.

Nowhere has the improvement been as notable, however, as parts of Central and Eastern Brooklyn. Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (67.6%) and Crown Heights (West) (67.2%) have entirely eliminated the gap between themselves and the nation this year. At 66.4%, Flatbush is just slightly behind the national average this year. In addition, though they remain behind the citywide average, Canarsie (55.3%) and Flatlands (60%), have also improved on their 2010 initial return rate performances by between eight to nine percentage points. They are joined by Bedford-Stuyvesant (55.1%) and Ocean Hill-Brownsville (59%), which have also improved on their 2010 initial return rate performances by approximately 4.8 to 6.4 percentage points. These are all significant increases and each of these neighborhoods and their leaders have much to be proud of.

Immigrant Communities

The City faced unprecedented challenges in terms of self-response in immigrant communities for a variety of reasons, from a basic lack of awareness of the census and its importance, to the immense fear created by the Trump Administration’s relentless attacks on both the census and immigrant communities generally over the last four years. In addition, both between immigrant groups and within immigrant groups, there are often significant differences in terms of levels of English proficiency, rates of educational attainment, rates of poverty, lengths of time communities have been established, as well as the strength of civic infrastructure, leading to varying rates of response to the census.

Below is a snapshot of how various immigrant communities have responded this year.

Latinx Communities

  • Washington Heights (72.2%) and Inwood (72.4%) 
  • University Heights (64.7%) and Castle Hill (60%)
  • North Corona (47.3%), Corona (57.5%), East Elmhurst (52.1%)
  • Cypress Hills (49.6%)

East Asian / Mixed Communities

  • Chinatown (63.8%)
  • Sunset Park (55.5%) and Bensonhurst (56.2%)
  • Flushing (61.8%) and Auburndale (70.7%)
  • Oakland Gardens (76.7%) and Little Neck (72.9%)

South Asian / Indo-Caribbean / Mixed Communities

  • Jackson Heights (67.5%), Elmhurst (63%), and Woodside (66.8%)
  • Richmond Hill (53.3%), Ozone Park (55.6%), and South Ozone Park (52.7%)
  • Kensington (63.5%) and Midwood (60%)
  • Bellerose (70.65%), Queens Village (61%)

Neighborhoods with Largest Increase in Response by Borough

The most improved neighborhoods from 2010 to 2020 (when comparing the 2010 initial response rate to the 2020 self-response rate) were:

  • Brooklyn: Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (by 15.9 percentage points)
  • Staten Island: Park Hill (by 12.3 percentage points)
  • The Bronx: Parkchester (by 9.3 percentage points)
  • Queens: Laurelton (by eight percentage points)
  • Manhattan: Central Harlem (by ~3.5 percentage points)

Complete Count of Sheltered and NYCHA Populations

New York City is the first and only jurisdiction in the nation to ensure a nearly-complete count of residents experiencing homelessness, and the city is among the very few to ensure a complete count of all residents living in public housing. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness reside in shelter and not on the streets, owing to the City being under State order to provide such shelter. Leveraging the Department of Social Services (DSS), NYC Census 2020 was able to broker an unprecedented arrangement between DSS and the Census Bureau to have DSS provide a complete accounting of all those in shelter directly to the Bureau via a secure data transfer. Because all census responses are protected by Title XIII of the U.S. Code, none of this information can ever be released by the Bureau to anyone - including back to the City - and all New Yorkers who have been residing in shelter have been included in this year’s count.

NYC Census 2020 also brokered a similar data transfer between NYCHA and the Census Bureau, though it should be noted that any response from a NYCHA household that self-responded to the census online, by phone, or by mail supersedes any information NYCHA will have provided to the Bureau. As a result of these arrangements, the campaign has been able to ensure a complete count of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers belonging to communities that have otherwise been historically very significantly undercounted.

The Road Ahead

A successful census is vital for the future of New York City. The census affects every one of us – it affects the resources that pay for the books and school supplies at public schools, funds the programs that pay for our health care, and profoundly affects our political representation. For Black, brown, and immigrant communities, which have long been undercounted throughout the history of the census, the 2020 Census is an opportunity to secure their rightful share of billions in federal funding and representation at every level of government.

While other cities also made investments in community organizations, New York stands out because the apparatus created with community partners can ensure lasting civic participation — even beyond the Census.

About NYC Census 2020

NYC Census 2020 is a first-of-its-kind organizing initiative that was established by Mayor de Blasio in January 2019 to ensure a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers in the 2020 Census. This $40 million program is built on four pillars: (1) a $19 million community-based awards program, The New York City Complete Count Fund, empowering 157 community-based organizations and CUNY to engage historically undercounted communities around the 2020 Census; (2) an in-house “Get Out the Count” field campaign supported by the smart use of cutting-edge data and organizing technology, and a volunteer organizing program to promote a complete count in each of the city’s 245 neighborhoods; (3) an innovative, multilingual, tailored messaging and marketing campaign, including a $3 million commitment to investing in community and ethnic media to reach every New York City community; as well as (4) an in-depth Agency and Partnerships engagement plan, including libraries, hospitals, faith-based communities, cultural institutions, and more.