Less than half of households in Paterson have submitted a completed census survey, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Data shows 46.4 percent of households in Paterson responded to the decennial survey via the internet, mail, and phone. Nearby Passaic City, with 53.8 percent, and Clifton, 65.3 percent, had better luck.
Passaic County has a 61.2 percent response rate. New Jersey has an average 62.7 percent response rate. The U.S. average is 60.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s daunting to think about,” said Inge Spungen of the Paterson Alliance. She said Glen Rock has an 86 percent response rate. “Why can’t we get Paterson closer to that number? I don’t know. I find it frustrating.”
Spungen is part of mayor Andre Sayegh’s effort to get all residents counted. Sayegh has created the Paterson Complete Count Committee and held rallies to encourage people to complete the surveys.
The mayor also enrolled the school district in his initiative. School officials held a poster contest to promote participation in the census. Their goal was to teach students about the importance of getting counted and nudge their families to respond to the survey.
But much of the efforts fizzled after the new coronavirus struck.
Spungen said there was a plan to set up kiosks with tablet devices at various nonprofit organizations to help people in completing the surveys. Another tactic was to get trusted local leaders to tell neighborhood residents about the importance of the count and urge them to fill out the forms. The pandemic dealt a blow to both strategies.
“I have to think that the pandemic has in some form or fashion affected people’s ability to get it done,” said Bob Guarasci, head of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC). His organization has been reaching families through social media to encourage them to fill out the firms. “We just have to keep pushing.”
The U.S. Census Bureau sent out information to households to complete the surveys in March. Spungen said the deadline to complete the survey has been extended to October 31 because of the pandemic. Guarasci is optimistic the extension will allow Paterson to at least beat the response rate from 2010.
In the 2000 census, Paterson’s response rate was 53 percent. In the 2010 census, Paterson’s rate was 59.4 percent, said Leslie Malone, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Spungen said there are two reasons why people do not complete the surveys. She said one is fear that it’s unsafe and the other is not knowing the importance of the count.
She said it’s safe to complete the forms because U.S. Census employees are barred from sharing people’s information.
“The fine for sharing information is five years in jail and $250,000. That’s a quarter million dollars. So, I think it’s a deterrent,” she said. “It is safe. And it’s incredibly important. Think of our schools, this could be the best fundraiser we ever have for our schools.”
Spungen said every Patersonian counted means an additional $2,500 in federal aid for education, social services, and healthcare for residents. Residents can complete the survey over the phone. She said assistance is available in a variety of languages, including Spanish.
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