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Why is the 2020 Census so important to Paterson?

January's Paterson Alliance meeting

Blog by Inge Spungen, Executive Director of The Paterson Alliance, a coalition of more than 70 nonprofits and community partners, uniting to create a vibrant Paterson.

Inge served as a Host Team member of Creative Paterson and during Paterson’s Call to Collaboration she led the breakout session, “How do we make sure every Patersonian is counted in the 2020 Census?”  In this blog, Inge explains why it’s so important for Paterson residents to participate in the upcoming 2020 U.S census, and talks about: “Paterson Counts ~ Census 2020,” an initiative launched to spread the word about the benefits of completing the census.

CNJ Editor’s note: emphasis is ours in bold text below


Why is the 2020 Census so important to Paterson?

Paterson is the third largest city in New Jersey, and has a large immigrant population. We represent 72 ethnic groups and speak 35 languages. Our population is one of color, with high poverty levels and many young children. All of these factors (and a few others, as well) result in Paterson residents being “hard to count”. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 84% of Paterson’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods.

The Federal Government distributes $800 Billion dollars each year to states and municipalities, based on the census count. Congressional representation is also dependent on the count. If Paterson is undercounted in the 2020 Census, we will receive fewer dollars than we are entitled to, and less representation in government.

As an example, assume a Paterson school and a neighboring school each have 1,000 students. Further, assume that all of the neighboring school’s families are counted in the census, but due to fear, only 70% of the Paterson School’s residents are counted. The neighboring school’s funding will be calculated for 1,000 students, while Paterson’s school will receive funding for only 700 of their 1,000 students. The funding disparity will impact not only schools, but other social services as well, such as health and housing services.

The current administration has added a question to the census that asks about a person’s citizenship, which is expected to increase the difficulty of getting a full count. While inclusion of the question on the census will be decided by the courts, and may be removed from the census forms, it has already multiplied the fears of many who are either undocumented, live with someone who is, or anyone who is wary of sharing personal information with government sources.

We believe it will take a monumental effort, bringing trusted leaders to the table to create a succinct message of the importance and benefits of completing the census. We will also have to allay the fears that have been stoked by the administration, targeting immigrants, both legally here and undocumented.

Paterson’s Mayor, Andre Sayegh, participated in Creative Paterson Opening Circle.

This challenge will not be easy, but Paterson is poised to make the full count a reality. Mayor Andre Sayegh began talking about the importance of getting a complete count of Paterson in the 2020 Census during his campaign. His outspoken leadership on getting a full count led to having the 2020 Census as a topic of conversations at Creative Paterson in June 2018.

In August we launched Paterson Counts ~ Census 2020, Paterson’s own Complete Count Committee as a response to these concerns. Subcommittees were formed to represent various groups of Paterson residents (business, education, religious, ethnic, etc.), and to find the trusted leaders in each of these groups. Our goal is to spread the word about the benefits of completing the census, both the dollars and services that will flow to Paterson and the additional representation that can result. In addition, it will be important to communicate the safeguards; U.S. Census employees are banned for life from divulging any information about data gathered, other than at statistical levels. The fine for sharing information is 5 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Studies have been done on which messages are more likely to encourage census participation by various groups, which will be shared with our subcommittees and trusted leaders. Together we will craft flyers, social media and other outreach that will be consistent and can be shared throughout the entire City.

Paterson is having a series of pep rallies on April 1, 2019, to begin the public outreach census awareness campaign. We hope this collaborative effort will not only increase participation in the 2020 Census, but will also build community in our City.


Inge Spungen is the Executive Director of The Paterson Alliance, a coalition of more than 70 nonprofits and community partners, uniting to create a vibrant Paterson. Inge is currently serving as president of the Board of Directors of 4CS of Passaic County, the Child Care Resource and Referral agency. She also serves on the board of Paterson Habitat for Humanity. Inge has a certificate in nonprofit management from Rutgers University.
Inge is active in child advocacy, working with ACNJ (Advocates for Children of New Jersey), the Paterson Early Childhood Coalition and was formerly a foster parent.

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“Walls came down, bridges were built, inspiration was shared, challenges were tackled, hope was renewed because people who care took the time to come together to have meaningful conversation.Thank you for creating the environment to make this possible. We are stronger together.”

– Doug Goulding, Chief Serving Officer at NCS Paterson and the Paterson Health Initiative

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