We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to lay claim to what is rightfully ours in this country—a fair say in who leads the political institutions that have the power to protect or harm us, and that provide resources for fundamental human rights like health care, food, and housing. The nine simple questions on the 2020 Census will inform how more than $1.5 trillion of federal funding is invested in communities – especially for those who historically have been undercounted and underrepresented — how voting district lines are drawn for the next 10 years, and how many seats are allocated to the Bay Area in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bay Area communities are responding to the 2020 Census in starkly disparate ways. As in past census counts, people who are of color, LGBTQ+ , low income, experiencing homelessness, immigrants and refugees, and those with disabilities and who have young children have historically been missed – and are at dire risk of being left out once again.
Estimates show that for every person not counted in the 2020 Census, California could lose $1,000 a year in federal funding for the next 10 years. Counties throughout the Bay Area rely on census-informed federal funding for education, free and reduced school lunches, community health care, accessible transportation, and other programs we rely on every day. Counties will be utilizing census data in the coming years for economic relief programs, public health research, and to create policies to help the long-term recovery of communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Alameda County receives 60 percent of its revenue from federal and state sources. If Alameda County is undercounted by just 3 percent, the county could lose $1 billion over the course of 10 years for essential programs that are needed more than ever in the wake of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, we are seeing widespread disparities in response rates in communities across the Bay Area including San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. East Oakland neighborhoods have not only been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 but are also currently responding to the census at only 50%. In places like San Francisco’s Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhood, the number is closer to 40%. Statistics aside, an undercount of any of these communities results in an incomplete and inaccurate portrait of our community members, overcrowded classrooms, underfunded services, and underrepresentation for policies that support our long-term recovery as a region. An undercount in any of these communities is an undercount in the Bay Area and it affects all of us.
The good news is that there is still time, and there is a network of hundreds of nonprofit, philanthropic, business, labor, and local government organizations fighting to ensure a complete and accurate count of the Bay Area despite the challenging circumstances. However, time is quickly running out. Starting in August, the U.S. Census Bureau will send Census Takers to visit the homes of people who have not yet responded. Every Census worker has sworn an oath to not share anyone’s personal information under penalty of prison and/or a significant fine and is required to carry an identification badge with the Department of Commerce logo on it. They are prohibited from asking for confidential information such as citizenship or immigration status, social security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers.
That said, it is best to respond on your own so that no one is sent to knock on your door: online at https://my2020census.gov/, by phone at 844-330-2020 (a list of in-language options is available here), or by mail with a paper questionnaire.
The census is so much more than an address-based count; it’s a fight for every person to be seen, to be included, and to be valued in our diverse community. When people are left out of the census, their existence, contributions, and struggles are erased from the story of our diverse community. Resources and political power meant to support them and give them a voice are assigned somewhere else.
If we each take three minutes to get counted–and remind a neighbor to do the same—we can make sure the 2020 Census represents all that the Bay Area is today and create a better tomorrow.
Stephanie B. Kim is the Senior Director of Census 2020 at United Way Bay Area