Brewer’s Census Postcards

The Manhattan BP is trying to track down residents who may have left town during the pandemic

13 Aug 2020 | 10:35

Have you gotten a postcard from the Manhattan Borough President, Gale A. Brewer? If your habit is to toss mail from politicians, don’t. Just this once. Read this, especially if the postcard found you living somewhere outside Manhattan. It could be worth $150,000.

That got your attention? It is only fair to say here that the money is not for you, at least not personally.

Brewer’s 277,000 postcards, sent first class in batches over the last two weeks, are a form of detective work, missing persons’ bureau. They are to track down Manhattan residents who have fled town during the pandemic.

There is no good time for a pandemic. But this spring was a particularly unfortunate moment because the lockdown coincided with the US Census, the-once-a-decade count of population.

Even if you have never taken a civics course, you probably know that lots of important things flow from that count, like how many representatives your community gets to send to congress and how much federal money flows back. “New York City’s school, transit, food and other aid from the federal government is determined by the Census count every ten years,” Brewer wrote. In fact, one estimate is that each added New Yorker is worth $150,000 in federal funds.

Which is why she and other officials are so concerned about the lagging rate at which Manhattan (and the city overall) is responding. According to a City University tally, 57% of Manhattan residents have filled out their census form, compared to 66% at this time ten years ago (or 60% 20 years ago).

Wealthier Neighborhoods

That brings us back to the postcards. It is no secret that thousands of Manhattan residents ghosted the city back in March. This created an unexpected problem for the census. In past decades the problem has been that under-counting occurred most often in poorer communities. That is what city officials had organized to prevent.

But this time, the response is lagging most severely in wealthier neighborhoods, according to Brewers office. This makes sense, of course, because these are the people with the country homes, cars and other resources to ride out the crisis out of town.

In fact, a map of Manhattan’s lowest responding neighborhoods runs down Fifth Avenue along Central Park and then spreads out south of the park through Chelsea, The Village, Soho and the Financial District, according to the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center.

Perhaps some of these folks are never coming back. C’est la vie. But for most, their permanent residence, the one they are supposed to give the census, remains their Manhattan address.

But many have either given the wrong address or been missed entirely. Going out to knock on their Manhattan door wont help. They aren’t there.

So Brewer is sending out those postcards, first class, so the Post Office will forward them to whatever forwarding address these lost Manhattanites have given. Most people still want to get their mail and Brewer wants to collect those federal dollars.

The postcards are pretty basic, by the way. No view from the Empire State Building with Wish You Were Here scripted across the front (although that would be a relevant thought).

The message from Brewer is short and sweet:

“Your Census form matters. Please, if you haven’t, complete your census form today!”