Census 2020: It's Time to #MakeBrooklynCount

The decennial census is critical to our democracy. Census data inform the allocation of federal funds, the apportionment of elected representatives, and the redistricting of state and federal election districts. When the data are inaccurate and biased in favor of certain demographics, undercounted communities lose out on crucial investments in their schools, public transit, healthcare, and much more.

Brooklyn is the hardest to count county in all of New York State, with over 80% of Brooklynites living in a hard-to-count neighborhood. In the 2010 Census, 33% of Brooklyn households did not mail back their census forms—the lowest mail return rate in the country among counties that have populations greater than 500,000.

To ensure that Brooklyn communities receive their fair share of resources—including $800 billion in federal and state grants allocated each year based on census data—Brooklyn Community Foundation is supporting local and statewide campaigns dedicated to overcoming complete count challenges.


We have partnered with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to launch the Brooklyn Complete Count Committee and the #MakeBrooklynCount campaign. These efforts will expand upon the $100,000 we committed in Spring 2018 toward Census 2020 organizing: $40,000 to the New York Immigration Coalition in support of the New York Counts 2020 statewide coalition, $40,000 to the Center for Law and Social Justice in support of their NYC Black Leadership Action Coalition for Census 2020 (NYC BLAC), and $20,000 to the New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity Fund to bolster statewide efforts.


For the first time since 1950, the government plans to include a citizenship question on the census survey. There is bipartisan criticism of this addition, with critics noting that not only does it add a financial burden to an already underfunded and ill-prepared agency, it jeopardizes the accuracy of the data by discouraging non-citizens and households with non-citizens from filling out the form. An estimated 400,000 Brooklynites—15% of our borough’s total population—are not citizens. In July 2018, we sent a letter to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau, urging them to withdraw the citizenship question, and we will continue to support efforts to remove it.

Census 2020 will also be the first time the Census Bureau captures survey responses online. More than a third of New Yorkers do not have broadband at home, so promoting internet accessibility for low-income residents, the elderly, and people with disabilities is imperative. Through partnerships with institutions such as local libraries and the YMCA, we hope to cross the digital divide by creating accessible and secure spaces for those without internet.

Partisanship has stymied efforts to fully fund the Census Bureau. Lack of adequate funding in the 2016 and 2017 budgets has forced the Census Bureau to cancel two of three field tests and delay its advertising campaign designed to increase survey participation. Additionally, the Census Bureau—the largest non-military federal agency—has been without a permanent director since July 2017. The current nominee, Steven Dillingham, has no experience working with the Census Bureau, and his involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that influences state legislation, casts doubt on his ability to lead a non-partisan statistical drive and remain committed to a fair and accurate census count.


Two-thirds of Brooklyn residents are renters, a category that has a traditionally low response rate. Further, renters are more likely to be low-income and Black or Hispanic, skewing the data in favor of higher income white residents—a demographic that has historically been over counted compared to our undercounted Black and Hispanic communities.

Children under 5 and seniors are also two groups that are often undercounted. Brooklyn has the largest population of children under five in New York City. Brooklyn also has the largest senior population in New York City, with over 40% of the city’s senior-headed households relying on government assistance for more than half their income.


Every person deserves to be counted, and to accomplish this requires collaborative action. According to research conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York State needs to invest $40 million in community-based Census 2020 efforts. The Fiscal Policy Institute’s proposed funding for Brooklyn is $7.2 million—the highest out of all New York counties. This amount is more than three times the amount New York State committed statewide to community-based organizing for the 2010 Census.

We are calling on New York State’s elected officials to include a $40 million funding commitment for Census 2020 in the next 2019 budget and ensure resources are directed to nonprofits on the frontlines in our communities.


To learn more about how you can support our work to #MakeBrooklynCount, contact Jenny Walski, Director of Individual Giving, at jwalski@bcfny.org 718-480-7500.