With 13,044 people per square mile, Hudson County is the most densely populated county in New Jersey and the sixth most populated county in the nation – as of the year 2000. That fact could change as a result of the upcoming 2010 census. For residents here, an accurate count will make the difference between whether or not the county gets its fair share of the $400 billion distributed in federal aid each year.
The census, which has been done every 10 years since 1790, determines political districts for the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states, as well as determines the boundaries of state legislative districts.
But that is only part of why census numbers should be accurate, officials said during their appearances in Bayonne, Union City, Jersey City and other parts of Hudson County early in January.
The U.S. Census also provides a snapshot of the community, who lives in it, and how it has changed. For instance, in 2000 – when the population of Bayonne was last counted as part of the national census – Bayonne had a population of 61,842 people. Estimates done in 2006, however, show a sharp decline of 6.4 percent to about 57,886.
“We need each and every person in this community counted.” – Mayor Mark Smith
Is Union City still the most densely populated city in the nation as it was in 2000? Does North Hudson still have the largest Cuban American population in the U.S. outside of Miami, Fla.?
As the city gears up for the 2010 census, the actual number of Bayonne residents is only one of many changes that census takers are expected to find.
“The makeup of our city has changed a lot in the last five or six years,” said Eleanor Tiefenwerth, who, as executive director of the Bayonne Equal Opportunity Foundation and other programs, has seen some of these changes.
In 2000, Bayonne had a population that was about 75 percent white, with about 17 percent Latino, about 6 percent African American, 4 percent Asian and about 4 percent other races. Nationalities broke down to about 20 percent Italian, 19 percent Irish, 18 percent Polish, 6 percent German and about 4 percent Arab.
“We’ve’ seen a lot of new nationalities coming into Bayonne over the last six years,” Tiefenwerth said during the kick off of 2010 Census operations in Bayonne on Jan. 6.
Tiefenwerth said she believes the new census will show that more Latinos are coming to Bayonne, as well as Filipinos, Arabs and other nationalities.
Many are not fluent in English, which poses problems in getting accurate census data, she said.
One big attraction for Bayonne is its education system, she said, adding that Bayonne also provides more services than many other cities.
Mayor Smith said the city fully supports Census 2010 because it is utterly important to the city of Bayonne.
“We will do everything in our power to assist you to assure that each and every citizen of Bayonne is counted,” Smith said. “The federal government can allocate over $400 billion to states and communities, and they do that based on the information that is brought back from the Census. We receive money every year in Community Development Block grants. Bayonne usually gets about $2 million a year. What does that money do? It helps people in need, it helps in our educational pursuits, pave streets, provide health services and other things.”
Addressing students from Philip Vroom School, who attended the kick off of the census in City Hall, Smith asked them to serve as ambassadors to talk to their families, friends, and others about the importance of filling out these forms when they come.
“We need each and every person in this community counted,” he said.
Census 2000, taken April 1, 2000, counted 281,421,906 people in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The questionnaire included seven questions for each household: name, sex, age, relationship, Hispanic origin, race, and whether the housing unit was owned or rented. In addition to these seven questions, about 17 percent of the households got a much longer questionnaire, including questions about ancestry, income, mortgage, and size of the housing unit. Census 2000 not only counted the population, but also sampled the socio-economic status of the population, providing a tool for government, educators, business owners, and others to get a snapshot of the state of the nation.
If you are breathing, you have to be counted
This year, the seven page questionnaire will apparently make it easy for people to provide the needed information, although according to Apurva Shah, a representative of the Census Bureau, private information is never made public about any individual. The point of the census is to accumulate data. Shah emphasized that personal information of any individual will not be shared with any other governmental department, including immigration.
"We don't talk to anyone about whether or not a person is legal or illegal here. We just want the information so that we can go forward with allotting aid. All the information is protected for 72 years," he said.
"It's for anybody breathing and living in the United States for six months and one day, with the one day necessary because most visiting visas expire in six months," Shah explained.
The form is shorter than it was in the past, including about 10 questions, Shah said.
“It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to fill out the forms,” he said.
If any of the census workers divulges personal information from the forms, that worker faces up to five years in jail and stiff fines of $250,000.
“We only send out data, not names,” Shah said. “The $400 billion in federal money each year goes to roads, highways, hospitals and other programs.”
Census worker Terry Clark said that during the 2000 census, Bayonne schools had one of the better school based census programs that included a poster contest that served as a template for census advertising in Bayonne. She said she hoped the schools would get as involved for this census as well.
“You have to make it personal, you have to understand the impact of filling out that questionnaire and how important it is to your community,” she said.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan said the schools are already involved in the project.
The high school is already talking about how to go to the senior centers to assist seniors in filling out the forms, Dr. McGeehan said, though the census workers told her that anyone assisting people with the forms must take an oath to keep the information confidential.
The form is expected to be mailed to residents of the city on March 15, and residents who fail to return the forms by April will be visited by a census worker.
Councilman Terrence Ruane told students that they played an important role for the census – reminding their parents to mail in the forms.
"If we don't know you exist, we can't provide services to you," said Geraldine Clark, partnership and data service coordinator of the Census Bureau.
The final counts will be submitted to the president by Dec. 31. The numbers will then be used to determine the number of congressional representatives for each state, among other uses.
Tiefenwerth said her office worked closely with census workers in 2000, both as a place to organize the census and later to allow people to fill out the forms.
“This is about funding for programs,” she said. “If we don’t get the numbers, we don’t get the funding. If the government doesn’t see a need, they do not fund programs.”