The UFT has been working tirelessly all year with its members and with public school families to try to boost New York City’s participation in the U.S. Census.
“The Census means billions of dollars more — or lost — for New York State over the next 10 years,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Our communities simply cannot afford an undercount, and there was no question the UFT would do everything in its power to get New Yorkers counted.”
The federal government uses Census data to apportion its funds for schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, and much more. With local and state budgets in a pandemic-induced free fall, an accurate count has become more crucial than ever. Yet in mid-August, New York City’s Census participation rate stood at 54%, trailing the 63% national average.
Before COVID-19 canceled in-person activities in New York City, the UFT launched a Census 2020 campaign. The union spread the word via email and social media and held teach-ins at schools to encourage members to educate their fellow New Yorkers about the Census.
In January, the UFT also gathered faith leaders to call on them to tell members of their faith communities why they need to be counted.
In early February, members of the union’s newly assembled district political action teams attended a weekend-long training session devoted to the Census campaign. “We learned more about the Census and planned for Census outreach,” said KC Hankins, a math teacher at John Dewey HS in Brooklyn. “We have been empowered to work with community-based organizations to provide direct programming in our schools and communities. And the UFT empowered us to communicate the importance of Census participation to our students.”
Once the pandemic made in-person gatherings impossible, the UFT shifted its focus to digital ads and phone-banking. On April 27, the UFT launched a 10-day social media campaign that reached more than 236,000 parents in New York City, including Spanish-speaking parents. With close to 1 million impressions on Facebook, this campaign led to 21,574 clicks to the U.S. Census website.
In early May, the union sent an email to educators and chapter leaders in 79 public schools in the 10 New York City ZIP codes with the lowest Census participation rate. The email included information on creating lesson plans and assignments about the Census.
Later that month, the UFT launched a social media campaign targeting parents in those ZIP codes, which generated 19,607 clicks to the Census website. Those ZIP codes saw a 48% increase in their Census participation rates from mid-April to the end of June, compared with a 30% increase for the 15 ZIP codes with the next-lowest participation rates.
The UFT organized a virtual town hall on the Census in June, with panelists including New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Census Co-Chairs Carlina Rivera and Carlos Menchaca, the city’s Census 2020 Director Julie Menin and Chair of the Association for a Better New York Steve Rubenstein.
After the Trump administration moved up the deadline to complete the Census from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, the UFT sent another email to its members to warn that time was running out to get their communities counted.
“We could not afford to let the Trump administration run out the clock without our communities being counted and getting their fair share of federal funds,” said Mulgrew.