GR works to get census number up, bring money to city

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Courtney Rogersbey hears it from his friends and neighbors. When the Census taker comes to the door, don’t answer.

“I think they’re concerned it’s a government intrusion,” Rogersbey said.

But he has a different take on the once a decade population count.

“I just want to know how this works, how I can be involved. Because, I’d like to contribute?,” he told a U.S. Census worker Wednesday as he signed up to be a census taker.

During one of several community events aimed at getting the historically undercounted population in Grand Rapids counted, you can fill out census forms online or mail them in starting in April.

But if you don’t respond, you’ll likely get a knock at the door this summer.

grand rapids census worker application
A booth encourages people in Grand Rapids to become a census worker. (Jan. 15, 2020)

And for that, the Census Bureau needs people.

“The federal Census Bureau is in dire need of individuals,” said Reuben Ndjerareou, a Grand Rapids City census ambassador.

Ndjerareou is one of five census ambassadors.

The ambassadors are part-time city employees who are tasked with getting as many people from historically undercounted neighborhoods in Grand Rapids counted during the upcoming census.

The schedule is about 20 hours a week and it pays up to $20 an hour.

“They’re truly looking for individuals from those underrepresented communities to apply,” Ndjerareou said. “Because we want people from that community to go to their neighbors.”

grand rapids census worker application
A booth encourages people in Grand Rapids to become a census worker. (Jan. 15, 2020)

His personal story is similar to many others he’s trying to convince that the census matters. 

“I myself am an immigrant. I’m from African, the county of Chad,” he said.

As a naturalized citizen since 2016, Ndjerareou says fears over deportation, even though citizenship questions are not on the census form, is one challenge in many immigrant communities when it comes to getting an accurate count. 

But even among those who are here legally, many escaped from countries where they mistrust and even fear their government.

“Especially if they’re newly arrived, they don’t know about this process,” Ndjerareou said. “And then there’s fears of giving information and understanding, why should I be counted?”

The biggest reason to why representation is important in Congress is money.

Each Grand Rapids resident not counted in the census represents a loss of $18,000 in funding over the next 10 years.

“Education, health care. You’re talking about food pantries, assistance for lunch at school,” Ndjerareou said. “If we’re able to help people understand how those dollars collectively help us as a community, I think some people come around to understand that.”

Rogersbey hopes to convey that same message when he begins knocking on doors this summer.

“We are the government,” Rogersbey said. “So, I think it’s important people stand up and let their numbers be counted.”