Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Concerns about a Census Under-count are Not a New Phenomenon

Larisa Ortiz is Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates

Yesterday the New York Times reported that "at least 12 states have signaled that they would sue to block the Trump Administration from adding a question about citizenship" for fear that such a question would result in a census under-count that would threaten federal funding for communities with large immigrant communities. 

Jackson Heights, Queens, NY is a destination for immigrants,
many from Central and South America. It is precisely these
communities where under-counts do the most damage. 
The concern regarding an under-count is an old and recurring one. In fact, today I received a Facebook notification of a post I wrote over eight years ago. At that time, it was Mayor Bloomberg who railed against the Census, claiming that the Census under-count amounted to roughly 2.6 percent of the City's population, mostly in communities of color. What I wrote at the time holds meaning today. 

"For commercial district managers, a census under-count, or findings that suggests a population decrease, means more hours logged overcoming the misconception that there is decreased discretionary demand in your neighborhood. It means more time spend finding other, more credible, sources that tell the true story, that your neighborhood is  teeming with people who have money to spend, but few places to spend it. A Census under-count means that retailers are more likely to forego urban opportunities, because when they pull market data, they may not like what they see at first glance. 

We already know that getting retailers to urban areas is a challenge, which is why Census accuracy is so critical. In 2004, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) completed a survey of retailers in partnership with Business for Social Responsibility. When asked why they didn't invest in urban areas, the second most cited obstacle to investment was an 'insufficient concentration of the retailer’s target customer'. Too bad a Census under-count only serves to reaffirm these misconceptions."

While the contours of the concern have changed, we remain somewhat accustomed to under-counts in immigrant communities. It only means that we have continue to find ways to augment the data to ensure that communities, investors and retailers have the information they need to make informed decisions. 

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