Brooklyn census response rate lags as deadline nears

Avi Greenstein of the Borough Park Jewish Community Council speaks at a census event outside the Brooklyn Public Library.
Photo by Ben Verde

With just two weeks left in the once-in-a-decade count, Brooklyn still lags behind the four other boroughs in its census self response rate, according to city census officials. 

Updated self-response data shows Kings County in last place at just 56.8 percent, behind Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx which all currently hover around 60 percent, and Staten Island, which is way ahead at 64.8 percent. 

The citywide response rate is at 59.8 percent as of Sept. 16, still below the nationwide average of 65.9 percent, according to census officials.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken matters into his own hands, and will go door-to-door throughout Canarsie on Thursday to encourage Brooklynites to complete the survey — which could impact the city’s federal funding for the next decade.

The city’s census effort is pulling out all the stops trying to ensure a higher count, with canvassers descending on undercounted neighborhoods with just two weeks to go before the end of September deadline. 

“We continue to pound the pavement,” city census director Julie Menin told Brooklyn Paper at an event meant to promote awareness of the survey at Grand Army Plaza on Wednesday.

While New York is ahead of other major cities like Boston and Los Angeles, and the self-response is nearing the same rate of the 2010 count, census officials say they are still not satisfied with huge swaths of New Yorkers remaining uncounted.

“It’s not good enough that 40 percent of New Yorkers remain uncounted,” Menin said. “Our team has gone to bat, we have done everything possible with our community partners but we literally can’t force people to actually take the 10 minutes to do their civic duty.”

The census, which takes around 10 minutes to fill out, is done every 10 years, determines how much crucial federal funding is doled out across the country, and determines how many seats in the House of Representatives an area gets. 

Brooklyn has traditionally presented a number of challenges to census counters, including a wealth of immigrant communities who may be distrustful of the federal government and reluctant to add their names to any database. During the pandemic, a new challenge has emerged in the form of wealthier Brooklynites fleeing the city to their vacation homes, as illustrated by lower self response rates in ritzy Brooklyn Heights.

Immigrant community leaders say they are zeroing in on Kings County for the last two weeks of the count,  descending on the borough with a flurry of texts, phone calls, and mailers alongside the census’s paid canvassing operation. 

“Brooklyn does not come out last, ever,” said Murad Awawdeh of the New York Immigration Coalition. “This is probably the most aggressive census campaign that has ever happened.”

Fill out the census at my2020census.gov