By Andrew Garda

The 2020 census wraps up next week, on Sept. 30, and if Montclair wants to catch up to its fellow New Jersey towns in terms of reporting percentage, it has a lot of work to do.

Currently, the township has only seen 73.1 percent of its population of an estimated 38,564 people fill out the form. While that percentage is up from 71.5 percent in the 2010 census, it’s still well behind the 96 percent reporting for the entire state and the 92 percent overall across the nation.

New Jersey itself is behind 20 other states in reporting percentage, and Montclair is part of the problem.

Why does that matter?

According to New York Regional Census Center Director Jeff T. Behler, there’s a lot riding on it for states, including representation in Congress and how much federal money the state could get.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding disseminated every year is based upon formulas that will use census data,” Behler said. “Money for programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], WIC [the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program], infrastructure.”

Locally, that impacts things like schools, hospitals like Mountainside, and road upkeep.

The biggest struggle in improving census numbers is reaching what Behler calls “hard-to-count communities.”

“[Those are] historically communities of color, communities where there’s a language barrier, communities where there’s a lot of renters and those who have technology issues,” he said.

Almost half of Montclair’s housing stock is rentals.

The pandemic canceled many events with community leaders who normally encourage people to fill out a form. That means the door-to-door census takers are even more critical.

With its 73-percent response to date, Montclair is not fully represented at this point, and those door-to-door census takers are still out working to change that. 



Census questions include whether a residence is owner- or renter-occupied, the number of people in the household, and the sex, age and race of each person living in the household.

These basic questions have caused some people to hesitate to answer.

Behler said reasons people don’t partake in the census span from a distrust of the government to concern over a data leak and, since March, worry over exposure to COVID-19.

Census takers are required to wear masks, and are not required to go into anyone’s house. They take all social distancing precautions, to preserve the health of the populace as well as their own.

Behler said the bureau has never released any data, and census employees take a lifetime oath to protect that data. 

Under Title 13 of federal law, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics, and responses remain anonymous. 

The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. “If we were to release information about an individual or a household, we’re going to be fined up to $250,000 and imprisoned up to five years,” Behler said.