Peter A. Dunn

Point of View

Giving Voice Spring 2019: Point of View

The Community Foundation is committed to using data to measure where we are and where we want to go. Using data is key to helping us figure out what is working, and what is not, so that we can prioritize our grants and community investments accordingly. The creation of CNYVitals, our community indicators website, is a direct outgrowth of this work.

Sometimes data analysis leads us in interesting directions. We recently looked at participation in the Imagination Library book program in Syracuse by census tract. As this program’s founding funder, we were highly interested in seeing the map of children’s participation correlated with other indicators, like poverty and educational attainment. Surprisingly, we found that there were more children enrolled in Imagination Library in some census tracts than the census thought existed. This pointed to a problem: the census undercounts residents in areas with high poverty, where significant numbers of residents move frequently or are new to an area.

We are taking an active role in supporting local efforts to ensure a full and accurate census count. We provided grant funding to New York Counts 2020, convened by the New York Immigration Coalition, to support the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA), the once-a-decade opportunity for local governments to add, correct or delete addresses on the lists and maps used to conduct the census. This coalition seeks to ensure that all New Yorkers can fully maximize their census participation. We awarded a grant to Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today (TNT), a resident-led group that represents all sectors of Syracuse, to educate residents on the importance of completing the census. Lastly, we provided funding for the City of Syracuse to hire a Complete Count Coordinator to facilitate our local 2020 Census effort and collaborate with community-based organizations, the city, county, state and federal governments.

We support greater funding by New York State for census-supporting activities. Along with many other funders, we question the proposed inclusion by the federal government of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The inclusion of a citizenship question in the questionnaire prompts the likelihood of an undercount – making it more likely that residents will not be responsive to the survey, especially in places like Syracuse that are home to significant numbers of refugees and immigrants. An undercount leads not only to bad data, but erroneous funding decisions by governments that make allocation and political representation determinations based on population. As a philanthropic institution that relies heavily on census data to make key funding decisions, a full and accurate count is a pressing concern.

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