Op-ed: The most important thing you can do at home

Political districts are redrawn every 10 years following the census count.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Get Counted in the 2020 Census; help close the Racial Wealth Gap

As New Yorkers face another week at home, it can feel like our civic obligation ends at the front door. We’re here to remind you that you need to take one more, very important step to protect our community: complete the 2020 census.

Now, more than ever, we must do everything possible to be fully counted; the consequences of an undercount are dire and will negatively impact our communities for the next decade.

Thankfully, institutions across Brooklyn and NYC, including Bed Stuy Restoration Corporation and Brooklyn Public Library, are spearheading initiatives to increase participation and inclusion in the census.

This is particularly important in black and brown communities, which have historically been undercounted, under-resourced, and denied proper investment. Nearly 80 percent of Brooklynites live in neighborhoods deemed “hard to count”. In 2010, Brooklyn had the lowest mail return rate among counties with populations over 500,000. Only 49 percent of Bed Stuy residents mailed in their census forms.

Those who stand to benefit the most are most harshly impacted by undercounting: children under the age of five, older adults, and black men. Over the past three decades, blacks have been undercounted in the census by 2-4 percent, while whites were overcounted by over 1 percent.

The direct result of the undercount in the 2010 Census: New York State lost two Congressional seats, while Texas gained four. If we are to pass legislation delivering crucial benefits to our community, we must be appropriately represented in Congress. An accurate count would also mean an annual investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into Brooklyn.

An accurate count can also help close the racial wealth gap. According to the George Washington Institute For Public Policy, a completed census form is worth $4,000 per person. Today, the average net worth of a white family is $171,000; nearly ten times greater than that of a black family at $17,150.

Predominantly white neighborhoods, which already have ten times the wealth, are getting better resources as a result of being overrepresented in the census. 

As we face the unprecedented Coronavirus crisis, a total count may also determine the number of future Coronavirus vaccines allocated to Brooklyn. 

Programs like the #MakeBrooklynCount campaign are expanding outreach efforts for Brooklynites. Billions of dollars are on the table for critical programs that alleviate the racial wealth gap such as SNAP, Head Start, Workforce Development and Medicaid. 

Brooklynites must insist on the full representation they deserve and take action to complete the census online, by mail, or phone at 844-330-2020. Together, we can make sure our voices are heard, our families are counted, and black and brown New Yorkers receive their fair share of funding and benefits.

Colvin Grannum is president and CEO of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and Linda Johnson is president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library.