The U.S. Census Bureau calculates Bridgeport’s population at around 144,000 residents with 55,000 being categorized as Hispanic or Latino, but more than 170,000 people may actually live in the state’s largest city, according to a local political leader.
This variance is typical of areas with a large population of non-citizens who either do not understand the process or are reluctant to provide information that they fear might lead to their deportation. This data gap is likely to widen if the Trump Administration gets to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census, a change, which opponents argue, will increase immigrant reluctance to participate and lead to an inaccurate count.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the inclusion of the citizenship question this spring.
The stakes are high for getting the Census right since the population numbers determine the congressional apportionment and the state legislative map. If many Latinos are not counted the electoral clout of California and several other so-call “blue stakes” will diminish and slow-growth states such as Connecticut could even lose another congressional seat as it did in 2000.
Moreover, the decennial survey gathers demographic statistics that are the basis for the federal funding formulas controlling the distribution of billions of dollars in grants to states and municipalities, money that is often used to help a community’s most vulnerable residents.
“Cities such as Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury where most of Connecticut’s Latino population lives “sorely depend on federal funds.”Rep. Chris Rosario, Bridgeport
These federal grants are the lifeblood of Head Start pre-school programs, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, children’s health and HIV-AIDS services. This money also is used to fight the opioid epidemic, for Educational Cost Sharing allocations and to fund housing, law enforcement, and transportation projects, or as Rosario said, “the whole gamut.”
Rosario and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz chair a state committee devoted to producing an accurate U.S. Census in 2020. Various municipal, charitable and community agencies such as the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving also are getting involved.
Bridgeport recently set up a complete count committee, which Rosario noted is the first in the state, which is being led by Councilmember Maria Zambrano Viggiano and City Clerk Lydia Martinez. New Haven and other cities have passed similar resolutions or are in the process of creating local programs.
In Hartford, which has a growing immigrant population, Mayor Luke Bronin said, “It’s vital that Hartford stands up to be counted….the Census matters for everything from state and federal funding to electoral representation, and we want to make sure that everyone in Hartford gets counted.”
Bronin added, “we’ll be working with state and local partners to get the word out to our entire community through a complete count committee.”
Initially, a decennial national census was mandated in Article I of the U.S. Constitution is to determine the apportionment of congressional seats. However, since 1790 the Census has expanded to include various demographic questions utilized in formulas controlling the national allocation of more than $600 billion annually in federal grants to states and municipalities.
Although an exact accounting of how much in federal funds flow into Bridgeport in any year was not readily available from the city it is clear that an undercount in the 2010 cost Bridgeport a lot of money over the last decade considering the award of federal funds in 2015 was more than $1,800 per capita nationally in 2015.
There also are significant electoral implications to an undercount in Connecticut. A population loss or small gain, depending on how other states fare, could lead to a loss of a seat in Congress and one less electoral vote. This is what happened in 2003 after the 2000 Census.
Asking whether someone is a citizen, according to those opposing the addition of this question, is a veiled attempt to diminish the electoral influence of “blue” states — with California as target No. 1 — by exacerbating the insecurity of their large population of immigrants who are reluctant to reveal their status and location because this information could increase their risk of deportation.
In 2010, about 40 percent of Bridgeport households completed and mailed back the Census questionnaires. Enumerators were sent out to close the gap but their success was inhibited by issues such as language barriers and the reluctance of undocumented immigrants to provide information to the government.
Rosario estimated that “off the books” Bridgeport’s actual population might be as high as 175,000. He said that while canvassing in his political campaigns, certain doors won’t open but he does see many undocumented residents at various community events.
Bridgeport’s record of low Census participation is typical of most urban areas, Rosario said.
While local officials can only guess at the “real population,” Census studies have found that the number of “non-citizens” such as a parent or other relative born outside this country. In Connecticut, as many as one out of every eight households and nationally nearly half of Hispanic households include non-citizens, researchers state.
A major obstacle for obtaining a true population count, Rosario said, is to make people, especially the undocumented community, feel safe despite the increased fear of deportation fostered by the Trump Administration. “Even a veiled threat is still a threat.”
In this regard, the accurate count programs, Rosario said, will establish “safe spaces” where computers and other services will be available help residents fill out forms.
Another issue is that the Census Bureau will need addresses to locate people. In Connecticut, the state and numerous municipalities are participating in LUCA, the Local Update of Census Addresses. These participants range from Bridgeport and Waterbury to tiny Fenwick.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which supports a bevy of community programs in Central Connecticut, ” is absolutely paying attention to the Census issue,” said a spokesman.
“The Foundation has already agreed to participate in a Hartford Census advisory committee and is considering what else we can do in terms of potential grantmaking and in partnership with the state, our municipalities, philanthropic organizations, community-based nonprofits, and local residents,” said Chris Senecal, the foundation’s senior communications and marketing officer.
Last year, the Hartford Foundation joined 120 of the nation’s largest and oldest nonpartisan philanthropic organizations and submitted a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross to express its “profound concerns about adding a new question regarding citizenship status to the 2020 Census questionnaire,” Senecal said. “The organization’s specific concerns related to the fact that the addition of the citizenship question would undermine the accuracy of 2020 Census data,” he said.
Publisher/Executive Editor’s Note: CTLN is committed to providing in-depth news and information on the 2020 U.S. Census in order to educate and empower all Connecticut communities.