By Amanda Zoch
The results of the 2020 census matter—they determine reapportionment and how federal funding is distributed to the states—but the process matters, too.
The work of conducting a nationwide census connects people to their communities and, in order to do so, also creates jobs.
I spoke with New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way and Senator Ronald Rice (D) to learn more about the Garden State’s Complete Count Commission, including its unique formation and its plans to reach hard-to-count populations and recruit employees.
New Jersey is one of three states where the legislature formed the Complete Count Commission (sometimes known as a Complete Count Committee); most CCCs are created by executive order.
According to Way, who chairs the commission, the legislature saw the commission as an investment in the state (after all, $1.5 trillion for state and local governments is at stake), and the CCC has partnered with nonprofits and other state departments to develop a “holistic, comprehensive, top-down and bottom-up approach” for counting New Jersey’s population.
A complete count requires the state to reach its hard-to-count populations, and approximately 22% of New Jersey’s population qualifies as hard-to-count—including immigrants, children under five, disabled people and the homeless.
Rice, who sponsored the legislation that created the CCC, holds that New Jersey has more to lose than most states because approximately 20% of its population was born outside the United States.
“We must invite every resident, but especially engage, protect and include the most vulnerable of us—including our undocumented immigrants—in our process," she said. "We must also go to every length to find and identify our homeless citizens, as well. This year’s one-day, statewide count totaled 8,864 homeless residents, which is two or three times less than the actual number.”
So, how can a state reach those hard-to-count people? By employing the individuals who know those communities and neighborhoods best. Various agencies and organizations in New Jersey, including the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, have hosted multiple job fairs to recruit enumerators, data collectors, office staff and more. And more opportunities are coming up to recruit engaged, everyday people to bring the census to their peers.
In fact, all across the country, the U.S. Census Bureau is looking to fill hundreds of thousands of positions to help complete the 2020 census. Despite a strong economy, Way noted that these jobs are “starting to resonate” with New Jerseyans.
In addition to hiring from hard-to-count populations, New Jersey’s CCC also seeks to connect with people where the state government already reaches them, using health care communities, the Department of Human Services, Veterans Affairs and local agencies to share accurate information and advocate for participation in the census.
For more details, see the Census Bureau’s webpage on 2020 Census Jobs and NCSL’s 2020 Census Resources and Legislation. And check out our earlier blog posts on other CCCs: Alabama, California, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL legislative policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.