Data from the NYC Department of Health has shown more people vaccinated than actual people in neighborhoods like Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.

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Photo: Nitin Mukul

Data from the NYC Department of Health has shown more people vaccinated than actual people in neighborhoods like Elmhust and Jackson Heights.

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More New Yorkers are getting vaccinated, but in some heavily immigrant neighborhoods like Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, there seems to be more vaccinated people than actual people, likely due to a census undercount. Vaccine data has given us a clearer picture of who lives in New York City.

Why would immigrants not fill out the census but get a vaccine?

In order to understand the discrepancies between vaccine data and census data in these high-immigrant neighborhoods, we must understand the context in which census outreach took place. Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who represents Elmurst, was passionate about getting the neighborhoods she represents to fill out the census, and focused heavily on on-the-ground outreach. 

“Around [the time we had to fill out the census] the former president, not only would straight out instill fear in people by trying to instill a citizenship question, but [would also make] public statements about urban communities and undocumented communities,” she said. “And it wasn’t a coincidence. It was arguably a premeditated effort to ensure that our immigrant communities would not be counted in the same way.”

Local politicians were aware that their communities would not be accurately counted because of the fear surrounding the census, in regards to people’s immigration status. Incoming City Council member for District 25 Shekar Krishnan, tells us census outreach was flawed from the start. 

“There was not good enough access to our immigrant communities, making census reporting accessible, language accessible, culturally accessible, especially given the last president there was also a lot of misinformation being spread as well,” he said “[This] very understandably detered immigrant communities and in particular the undocumented, from reporting information to the federal government. And that’s why I feel like the government has to do so much more to make sure they’re reaching our immigrant communities.”

Although residents in these heavily immigrant neighborhoods were wary about filling out the census, many were quick to get the vaccine. According to the NYC department of health, the estimated population for a neighborhood like Elmhurst is 91,656, while the number of people who got one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is 95,909. The number of fully vaccinated residents is 88,640. This is likely due to the fact that many people living in Elmhurst are essential workers who are required to have at least one one dose of the vaccine to keep their jobs. 

Around 22% of the people in Queens are essential workers who are mandated to get the vaccine. This can explain the gap between the estimated population census data has given us and the estimated amount of people.

What are the implications of this information?

An accurate census count is important for many reasons. The primary reason is that the census determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress for the next 10 years. The census also directly affects everyday life because it determines how much federal funding communities will receive for roads, schools, housing and social programs. An undercount of the census means neighborhoods aren’t receiving the appropriate amount of money to help residents maintain the quality of life. 

Unfortunately, the gap in a community like Elmhurst is 4,253 people, which means that 4,253 are not getting the funding they deserve. Elmhurst was one of the communities that was most affected by the pandemic, around 446 people died from Covid-19 and 1 in every 6 was diagnosed with Covid-19. Elmhurst hospital was overrun by Covid-19 patients. The pandemic didn’t create new inequalities, but instead highlighted the pre-existing ones. 

“[Elmurst being the epicenter of the pandemic] was the result of decades of disinvestment in our communities. Immigrant communities like ours have always been short changed when it comes to investments in our social infrastructure, from our public hospitals to our public schools, to our housing, and to our parks space. A lot of that is because the government at every level has ignored our communities for so long, and that has created these deep, persistent inequities that gave rise to us being the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Krishnan.

If these communities had been probably counted in the census and given the funding they actually needed, a lot of these inequities would have been avoided in the first place. 

“If the data for Elmhurst is an undercount of our true population, we are yet again going to be short changed when it comes to resources that we need to address the very underlying factors that made us the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Krishnan, “We need not only to correct years of disinvestment, but we need more investments to correct how much graver that inequality has become. And the census is a crucial way to get those resources from the federal government and the state and city. I’m very concerned about how we again will be shortchanging those resources.”

What can the city do to help those communities that were undercounted?

Vaccine data is giving us more information on the kinds of people living in our neighborhoods, and it is evidence of a census undercount, but what does this mean for these communities? Will they get the funding they deserve? Assembly member Catalina Cruz thinks that unfortunately time is up.

“Unfortunately, [the vaccine data] is not going to mean anything because all of these folks did not come forward and fill out the census so that accounting has already been done on those 10 years worth of funds. I already said we can always advocate for more when it comes to how redistricting is done, how all of these things are done to depend on those numbers or summaries already set,” she said. 

It is hard to imagine change can happen when a census undercount has been known to happen for so long, yet the city won’t do anything to address it. However, as new vaccine data continues to come in and a new class of local politicians is sworn in next year, there is hope.

As an incoming City Council member Krishnan has hope that the two neighborhoods he represents, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, will finally be able to get the funding they deserve.

“I think now it’s incumbent on a city coming out of this pandemic to fill that gap and make sure that we’re truly getting the resources that reflect our population and certainly, at the very least, that reflect the vaccination data and public health data and what that says about our population,” he said. 

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