Preparation For 'Vital' 2020 Census Begins Now For Syracuse

May 2, 2019

Credit Andrew Taylor / via Flickr

The physical distribution of the Census in Syracuse won’t start until April of next year, but planning for the count is starting now. The 2020 census is mixed up in a Supreme Court case over a citizenship question and faces the challenge of being the first primarily digital census count.

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens says taking an accurate count is vital to city residents, businesses and government. Their first step to getting the numbers right was appointing Tori Russo as Syracuse's 2020 Census coordinator. Owens says the fact that her appoitment was made almost a year in advancce shows how important this is.

Some type of population count takes place almost every year, but only the 10 year census breaks it down block by block. Owens says that information is important for a long list of people and organizations.

Governments use the data to apply for federal funds. Syracuse's Community Development Block Grants are federally funded based off census data. CDBG brings a wide range of area-specific projects to low income areas. Owens says census data also helps direct policy.

"This data helps us to understand what exactly is our homeless population," said Owens. "Who is a new American in our community? How many languages do we actually have in this community? How old is our population? And that would drive some of the polices."

Census data is also used by any person or organization applying for funds. Owens says applications need to have a needs assessment.

"So, 'I need money.' 'Tell me why you need it.' 'I want to provide this service, and this is why the service is needed,'" Owens said. "And typically in an application that is your needs assessment. You have to make that argument through data. You can pile on other kind of data, but it is...the house is sitting on census data."

Poor communities and communities of color are historically undercounted in the census. Deputy Mayor Owens knows there is an uphill battle to gain trust and recieve an accurate count.

"The biggest challenge I believe we are going to have is trust," said Owens. "People's just general distrust of government and a heightened distrust of federal government...You have to debunk myths that people have. But when a myth is embedded in a person's belief, it's hard to get them to trust that that's not the case."

Right now, those involved in census efforts are working to understand community frustrations and trying to relive those feelings with action.

"People feel that the numbers are used to get money, but they don't actually feel the benefit of the money that is generated from it," said Owens. "But what we have to do a better job of is that the people who are living the experience, who we are writing about and documenting feel the impact of the revenue and the resources we are getting."

The city's Census work is only begining. For more information on the 2020 Census visit