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New Research Identifies New York’s Hardest-to-Count Communities for 2020 Census

Report Commissioned by the New York State Census Equity Fund, housed in the New York Community Trust, provides key data, recommendations for achieving complete count.

In the face of historic challenges ahead of the 2020 Census, New York’s foundations and nonprofits must step forward to invest in aggressive efforts to ensure those in marginalized, hard-to-reach communities are fully counted, according to a new report issued today.

The report—authored by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and underwritten by the New York State Census Equity Fund, housed at The New York Community Trust—identifies 50 communities across the state that are most at risk to be undercounted in 2020, as well as a blueprint for how New York’s foundations and nonprofits can help ensure that these communities get the support they need.

New York State residents already suffer from the impact of undercounts. The Rockefeller Institute found that New York residents pay $35.6 billion more to the federal government than they receive back in federal funding—a negative balance of payment greater than that of any state. With an undercount in 2020, that balance will likely grow even larger.

In addition, New York could lose additional representation in the House of Representatives, meaning that its voice on national issues will be further diminished.

“The threats to New York are very real and the impact of an incomplete count would be devastating to communities across our state,” said Patricia A. Swann, senior program officer for The New York Community Trust. “We have no time to lose. It’s time for foundations, nonprofits, and donors throughout New York to band together to make sure we are able to achieve a fair and complete count.”

New York had one of the lowest response rates in the country during the most recent census in 2010. This low response has been especially acute among some populations—including communities of color, low-income households, immigrants, rural households, and young children.

Given the state’s demographic makeup, the Rockefeller Institute report spotlights two central challenges to New York for the 2020 Census:

1. The potential addition of a citizenship question: There are mounting concerns that immigrants and their families will be afraid to participate in the census—the result of recent efforts by the government to separate parents and children at the border and increased raids by ICE. The government has also announced plans to add a citizenship question to the census—a move that has only raised fears in immigrant communities that the census will be used as a tool to persecute and deport immigrants. Since most undocumented individuals are members of families that include citizens as well as non-citizens—so called “mixed status” households—it’s likely that entire households would be missed, not just the individuals who lack proper documentation.

2. The move to online questionnaires: For the first time, census data will be collected primarily online, which will help manage costs and make it easier for those with access to the internet to participate. But the new format is also going to make it harder for people without reliable internet access—most of whom live in areas that are already historically undercounted.

Given New York’s history, the report offers a series of recommendations for how the state’s philanthropic community can help support a complete count in the face of these challenges. Recommendations include:

  • Using data to identify the hardest-to-count communities and target investments to these regions;
  • Expanding access to internet service in hard-to-count communities and improving the digital literacy of those living in these communities;
  • Building connections between these populations and trusted nonprofit partners;
  • Launching a public-awareness campaign targeting hard-to-count communities;
  • Providing additional support to these residents where government has fallen short in providing assistance.

About The New York Community Trust

The New York Community Trust connects past, present, and future generous New Yorkers with vital nonprofits working to make a healthy, equitable, and thriving community for all. We are a public grantmaking foundation dedicated to improving the lives of residents of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. For more information, visit us at

About The New York State Census Equity Fund

The New York State Census Equity Fund (NYSCEF) was established in 2018 to ensure coverage of the State’s hard-to-count communities in the 2020 Census.

The Fund makes grants to support complete census count efforts in neighborhoods, towns, and rural areas across the State with large populations that are at risk of being undercounted.

About The Rockefeller Institute

Created in 1981, The Rockefeller Institute of Government is a public-policy think tank providing cutting-edge, evidence-based policy. Its mission is to improve the capacities of communities, state and local governments, and the federal system to work toward genuine solutions to the nation’s problems. Through rigorous, objective, and accessible analysis and outreach, the Institute gives citizens and governments facts and tools relevant to public decisions. Learn more at

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