Syracuse and Onondaga County officials are trying to find the best way to get as thorough a census count as possible. They announced the area’s Complete Count Committee on Wednesday. It will utilize community groups to try and encourage participation in neighborhoods or among demographic groups that are usually hard to count.
Mayor Ben Walsh says it’s not just poverty, ethnicity, or immigration concerns that can make people shy away.
“One is the increasing reliance on the internet,” said Walsh. “It’s great to have the internet as a resource to make sure that people have multiple ways to participate in the census. But when you have a city where 22% of our households don’t have a computer in their house that has access to the internet that becomes a barrier.”
Walsh continued, “When you have a city where 25% of your residents are moving at least one time a year, and we are relying on mail that becomes a significant barrier.”
One way to bridge some of the gaps in the count is to cut down on suspicion. Robyn Smyth with the Central New York Community Foundation says that’s where human service and community groups come in.
“It’s important that there’s trusted messengers within each of these communities,” said Smyth. “We want people that look like the people in their community to be the one sending the message. We know that there are particular populations that are typically undercounted and that’s young children, low income, urban, the elderly. So we want to make sure we have people who look like those folks out in the community.”
An incomplete count costs the area in state and federal funds for a wide variety of social and community services. County Executive Ryan McMahon adds an undercount can make it difficult in other areas, such as economic growth.
“We believe that in the last census that our population was not accurate,” said McMahon. “And that’s important when you are branding your community. If you’re a community that is losing population, it’s harder to get people to stay in that community and raise their families. It’s harder to get people to move into the community. It’s harder to get people to want to invest in the community from the private sector.”
The Complete Count Committee meets through the end of the year. The actual census counting starts next February.