Despite the efforts of outreach workers to prod every city resident to return a U.S. Census form, New Haven is trailing Hartford and Bridgeport in counting its inhabitants. The answer may lie on campus.
Cities across the nation are scrambling to get residents to respond to the U.S. Census, a Constitutionally mandated population count that takes place every 10 years. A lot is at stake: the Census determines political representation and how much money municipalities get from the federal government.
As of last late last week, New Haven’s participation rate in the Census was 12 percent, while Hartford’s was 16 percent, and Bridgeport’s and Waterbury’s were both 18 percent. The state as a whole was lagging three points behind the national rate of 29 percent.
Kathy Ludgate, New England regional director of the Census, said she didn’t know why New Haven’s rate is sluggish and praised the work of the city’s Complete Count Committee. She said some people might be waiting until April 1 to send back their forms, because that is considered Census Day. “It’s a point of reference, who’s living where on that date,” she said. Or, she guessed, people might need more help filling out the forms.
But with a full court press of Census workers reaching out through neighborhoods, faith communities and schools in the Elm City, it’s hard to see what would make New Haveners slower to respond than residents of comparable-sized Connecticut cities.
“If we don’t have them back by the middle of April, then we will be going out to all the non-responding homes,” she said. “We’ll be watching to see if there are particular areas where the Census questionnaire wasn’t returned to see if there’s more work to be done. The Census Bureau will work with our partners and get more information out to residents.”
Karyn Gilvarg (pictured), director of City Plan and temporarily in charge of the count while a new coordinator is brought up to speed, is one of those partners. She was involved in the last count in 2000, and said this time the city’s added a new component—Spanish-speakers among the city’s Census staff.
“We’re reaching out through churches, schools, health care providers, the media,” she said. The outreach to Spanish speakers is mostly through community service agencies and neighborhood churches, including to those who are not here legally. Outreach workers emphasize that the information on the forms is used by the Census Bureau only and not shared with any other entity, government or private. And to get the city’s fair share of federal funding, it’s critical to count every person. Click here for a previous story.
She said one possible explanation is that those living in “group quarters” have not been counted yet. That includes a guesstimated 5,000 Yale students—mostly undergrad and some graduate students—who live in dorms, plus all the students at Southern Connecticut State University who live in New Haven dorms (the ones in Hamden dorms will be counted for Hamden). Last year, Yale students had a poor showing in the Census: Click here for a story on a campus outreach effort.
“Group quarters” also includes other forms of group housing, like homeless shelters, the city jail, group homes and half-way houses for those leaving prison. Gilvarg said that anecdotally, it appears that New Haven has more residents in the “group quarters” category than do other Connecticut cities, and once they’re all counted, the city’s rate is likely to rise. The homeless were counted Monday night, both those in shelters and any others who could be identified living on the street.
Census worker Gene Yllanes (pictured at left with City Hall worker Mike Abeshouse) was good-naturedly asking everyone who passed his table—strategically located behind the stairs to the second floor where every visitor to City Hall would pass by—if they had returned their Census forms. He had more on hand for those who needed them. Abeshouse remembered getting the forms at home, but thought he had misplaced them.
“I have friends who remembered getting the postcard telling them the forms were coming in the mail, but didn’t remember ever getting the forms,” he added, “so they’ve asked me to pick up another questionnaire for them.”
The Census form itself is only 10 questions long, and should take no more than 10 minutes to fill out. Yllanes said he’d gotten a number of queries from Latinos who didn’t know what race to check, because there was no “Latino” or “Hispanic” on the form. (It’s an ethnic, not a racial, category.) “I tell them to just check ‘white,’” he said. What if they’re black? Then they can check that, he said.
Gilvarg said in 2000, only one of three New Haven households initially responded to the survey, though the number rose with follow-up. The final numbers by Census tract varied from 35.2 percent in Dixwell to 73 percent in upper Westville. She said the city hopes to do better this time around.