Amherst, Northampton ramp up Census 2020 campaign

  • This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census.  AP PHOTO/MICHELLE R. SMITH 

  • FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, a worker gets ready to pass out instructions in how fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga. Democrats are quick to blame President Donald Trump’s single-minded efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act for the increase in the nation’s uninsured rate. But census numbers suggest other explanations as well, from the administration’s immigration crackdown to the strong job market (AP Photo/John Amis, File) John Amis—AP

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2019 11:51:27 PM
Modified: 9/20/2019 11:51:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Amherst’s significant population of college students and people from across the globe make it among the most challenging communities in Massachusetts to get an accurate count of those living in town.

In Northampton, certain sections are considered difficult for determining a precise count of people residing in the city.

To address the challenges of getting the right tally of residents in Amherst and Northampton during next spring’s census, which is important for fair representation — and not losing out on the state’s $2,372 in federal aid per person per year based on population — efforts are underway in both communities to begin educating residents about the decennial survey that takes place April 1, 2020.

On Monday at 5 p.m., state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and state Rep. Paul W. Mark, D-Peru, along with the U.S. Census Bureau, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Complete Count Committee and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, are holding a “Census 2020 Kickoff” event at 20 Hampton Ave. in Northampton.

Mayor David Narkewicz will speak, with City Councilors Alisa Klein, Marianne LaBarge and Gina-Louise Sciarra expected to be in attendance, before leading a canvassing of neighborhoods that will be a focus of attention for the census.

Mark currently chairs the House Committee on Redistricting, while Sabadosa serves on the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

Amherst efforts

In Amherst, Communications Manager Brianna Sunryd said this week town officials are launching what will be known as the Complete Count Committee. A meeting of the committee, which is seeking input on how to do outreach regarding the census, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the police station, 111 Main St.

Based on data provided by Boston Indicators, a research center at the Boston Foundation, and using City University of New York data, 70.2 percent of Amherst’s population is deemed “hard to count.”

Sunryd said 60 percent of the town’s residents are between the ages of 15 and 24. Amherst also has other vulnerable populations, including many immigrants.

The data from 2010 census showed that in one tract in Amherst, with 12,923 people, only 68.6 percent of households mailed back their questionnaires, requiring more costly and difficult in-person follow-ups to count the remaining 31.4 percent. About 12 percent are immigrants and 91 percent renters in that tract.

In another tract in Amherst, with 1,827 people, only 60.5 percent of households mailed back the surveys. That tract has 13 percent immigrants and 61 percent renters.

The census aims to count everyone who is living in a city or town, whether or not it is the place people are registered to vote and regardless of citizenship.

Amherst is the only western Massachusetts town considered among the top 20 hardest to count, with most of these communities closer to Boston, including Lawrence, Lynn, Malden and Lowell.

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, has prioritized getting an accurate census and in June began community conversations related to the topic. At the time, the possibility remained of the Trump administration adding a citizenship question. That is no longer the case, but Domb said she worries that the effect of this potential question, and the administration’s ongoing efforts to scare immigrants, lingers.

Domb said cities, towns and nonprofit organizations depend on the census and that she will be part of Amherst’s Complete Count Committee, while also focusing on counting people in Pelham and Granby.

Any ideas people have for making the process smoother is welcome Monday.

“We want to make this less scary,” Domb said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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