When Barrio started asking herself what she could do to improve the situation, she decided to help next year's census get an accurate count of the people living around her, so her high-density neighborhood could get more of the resources it needs.
Barrio is part of the 45 percent of people, according to the Census Bureau, who know that census data helps determine public funding for hospitals, public transportation and infrastructure, among other things.
Barrio recently joined about 30 other volunteers at second training session for NYC Census 2020 to find out how she can encourage people, including members of her church, to participate in the constitutionally mandated decennial count.
Volunteers from New York City's five boroughs and New Jersey gathered in a small, dimly lit room in Manhattan’s financial district to learn the best way to conduct census-related activities in their communities — some of which are considered traditionally hard to count.
“The census is like your RSVP to this party we call ‘living in the U.S.,’” Kathleen Daniel, field director with NYC Census 2020, enthusiastically told volunteers, as she stood next to a white board projecting a Powerpoint presentation about the census and why it matters.
Julie Menin, director of NYC Census 2020, told NBC News: “We are fighting for our fair share of over $650 billion a year that the federal government allocates to cities and states across the country. It's funding for our public education, public housing, Medicaid, senior centers, Head Start programs.”
In the 2010 census, the city’s response rate was less than 62 percent, compared to the national average of 76 percent. Another undercount would risk not only federal funds but also the loss of as many as two seats in Congress, Menin said.
The odds of that happening are high. According to a January Census report, the city’s response rate may be even lower — 58 percent — in 2020 because of a variety of factors, including a distrust of government as well as concerns about data privacy and confidentiality.
In Queens County, where Barrio lives, 48 percent — almost half — of the population is foreign born. As a recent Rockefeller Institute of Government report states, foreign born residents, as well as Latinos, blacks, children under five, people over 65, those with limited English and lower-income residents are among the groups that have most been undercounted.
This is why $19 million of the $40 million that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and the City Council has committed to the effort is slated for community engagement efforts, including “disseminating grants to community organizations” with 501(c)(3) standing, Menin said.
The Census survey suggested that trusted voices in the community may increase participation among people with the greatest distrust in government.
Antonio Nery, a volunteer from the Bronx, has already convinced dozens of people in his community to either commit to filling out the census or join NYC Census 2020 as volunteers.
Nery identifies as Garifuna, also known as Garinagu — descendants of Afro-indigenous populations from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent who were later exiled to Honduras and Belize.