Monday, March 22, 2010

Count Manhattan in the Census

Last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer articulated the need for Manhattan residents to participate in the Census this year. We need to follow his guidance, and we also need to change how the Census numbers are used for the distribution of government funds.

Stringer Asks Manhattan to Be Counted

Census forms just started arriving in Manhattan, and we must focus on getting the word out to our friends and neighbors regarding the benefits of participating in the census. We only have an opportunity to participate in a census once every ten years, and there is far too much at stake for us to fail to take full advantage of the situation. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is taking a leadership role in organizing Manhattan efforts to ensure that every Manhattan resident is counted in the 2010 Census. As he stated in an email to Manhattan residents last week, hundreds of billions of federal funds are distributed based on the population numbers that come from the census.

Stringer is collaborating with a broad coalition of individuals and entities to get Manhattan to stand up and be counted. As he stated in his email:
We have come together as elected officials representing communities in Manhattan to encourage every resident in the borough to participate in the 2010 Census. We have joined forces with community-based and non-profit organizations, along with individual volunteers, to conduct extensive outreach – and are soon hitting the streets to educate as many people as possible about the importance of responding to the 2010 Census. Now, more than ever, we need a strong response rate to ensure New York City gets the financial support it requires. The 2010 Census is completely confidential. We assure you that none of the information provided on the form is released, under strict penalty of law.

Every person who cares about our great borough and our great city should ask every friend or acquaintance living in Manhattan or anywhere in NYC to fill out the census forms and send them in immediately.

Theft Continues

While we need to be counted, we also must advocate for the census results to be used in a more fair way in the future. We have previously stated our frustration with the mistreatment of Manhattan and of communities of color in the census.

The census counts incarcerated individuals as living in the community where the prison is located rather than in their home community. While, as of 2002, only 24% of those incarcerated in New York State are from Upstate New York, 91% of prisons are in that part of the state. Manhattan loses the votes of those incarcerated and must subsidize the education and lifestyle of upstate communities. Manhattan subsidizes the parks in upstate communities, and Manhattan's ability to fight back is limited by the increased voting power of upstate communities. In fact, many Federal program dollars are allocated based on the number of low-income residents are in a given community. The Census results in those dollars being provided to upstate communities who don’t use the funds to aid those incarcerated individuals. This circumstance creates a windfall from the Federal Government for upstate communities at the expense of Manhattan and NYC.

It is worth noting that more than 80% of New York State's prisoners are Black or Latino, while the state's prison locations are nearly all in areas with very few Black or Latino residents. Though drug use equally common outside of communities of color as it is within communities of color (see page 271 of this report by the US Department of Health and Human Services), ninety percent of those in NY State prisons based on drug offenses are Black or Latino. Therefore, this theft from Manhattan is also a piece of a broader crime against ethnic minorities and people of color who reside in New York State. The impact of the diluted voting power and reduced resources that result from this theft is concentrated in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents live in the largest numbers. These facts add insult to the injury. See a detailed report on the effect of prison populations on legislative districts in New York State in a report by the Prison Policy Institute.

Let us participate in the census this year in larger numbers than ever, and let us aggressively advocate for the process to be changed to eliminate the abuse of Manhattan and NYC as well as to eliminate the abuse of communities of color.

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