Hartford currently sits in last place among cities in the nation in responding to the 2020 census. Last week a federal judge ordered the deadline extended through Oct. 31, giving the city a few more weeks to target hard-to-count areas. But now the White House is appealing that order and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has announced that data collection will wrap up on October 5th.
Hartford’s self-response rate for the 2020 census is 48%, and state leaders fear that low response rates could mean families lose out on thousands of dollars in federal aid.
Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said that could adversely affect the quality of life for disadvantaged children across the state. Gay said that every person missed on the census translates to a loss of $2,900 for each, money that supports their health care, education and all of the community services that rely on federal funding.
This is particularly true for communities living in hard-to-count areas, where there may be a lack of internet access, language barriers and unstable living conditions. Gay said efforts to exclude undocumented communities in the census may have influenced some families with young children to decide not to participate. “It’s one more way that undocumented communities feel singled out and threatened by all this,” he said.
In the last census, about 5% of children in Connecticut were not counted and most were from lower-income communities. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that 1 in every 5 children who is Black or Latino lives in concentrated poverty in the state. That compares to 1 in every 100 white children. Liz Fraser, policy director at the Connecticut Association for Human Services, said she’s troubled that low participation in the census can affect Black and Latino families, who this year are also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
“It’s just very distressing to think that as families are facing so much stress, this is going to be one more thing that potentially could lessen their power through representation and lessen their children’s opportunities, from what their city is receiving in funding,” said Fraser.
Hard-to-count areas were a target for outreach during this deadline extension, particularly families who may be living in multigenerational homes or who are in transitional housing or with mixed citizenship status. What leaders are certain of is that the effect of undercounting communities in hard-to-reach areas can profoundly impact children for more than a decade.
Brenda Leon is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. This story was updated on Sept 29.