Mr. Behler is the director of the US Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office
The media’s been reporting that the response to this year’s census is a lot lower than previous times. Is that correct?
Let me say this: It is lower than what it was previously, but I’ll also say that we expected it to be lower, even before COVID-19. As an example, we expected the response rate to be 60.5 percent by the time we start knocking on doors. And we’re already at 61.5 percent.
The coronavirus has brought out a lot of frustration with government. I’m hearing anecdotal evidence that people do not want to fill out the census forms because they’re saying, “Let the state get less representation in Congress, let the state get less money, it doesn’t trickle down to us anyhow.” Are your people hearing that, and how would you respond?
Yes, absolutely. It is something that we’ve been hearing throughout our region. The census is really a local event. Yes, it’s run by the federal government but at the end of the day, for the next ten years, local officials will be making very important decisions on hospitals, roads, and schools [based on the census]. Let’s give them the most accurate information to be able to make those decisions.
After the 2010 census, there was a major fight in New York when the Orthodox community sought more seats to represent them in government. Let’s say the community fills out the census forms and ends up punching above its weight. Will we be able to take this to the legislature and demand representation that is commensurate with our population?
The federal government is not involved in the redistricting process. But there is power in numbers. It certainly makes a case stronger when they go to local leaders and say, “Look how much we’ve grown. We need lawmakers to represent us.” And the best way to make that case is with data. Data is not an estimate, it’s not a projection, this is the actual power of the community. It’s hard to define the benefits a community gets by making sure they’re counted, It’s just so powerful.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)
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