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Californians have two weeks left to self-respond to the census. In mid-August intrepid brigades of census foot soldiers will set forth to knock on doors and round up people who have not yet filled their forms.

For the last six months, getting people to self respond to the census has been the focus of an extraordinary network of state and community leaders as well as trusted messengers, who have collaborated on hundreds of creative initiatives to drive home the message that every person counts in Census 2020.

What has that effort accomplished so far in California?

Despite the committed efforts of census partners to push the self-response rate (SSR), it’s been a rocky road. After troubleshooting the threat of the citizenship question, the census continues to battle the misinformation that could derail its efforts; most recently, the White House memo to exclude undocumented people from the apportionment process has reignited fears, especially among marginalized communities.

In the background, the COVID-19 pandemic tragedy plays on. As  Californian communities struggle to fend off its devastating impact, census officials have been forced to revise operations and extend self-response deadlines from July 31 to Oct. 31, as the pandemic completely upends its original timetable.

But even with these hurdles, California and the Bay Area have much to be proud of.

As of August 3, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Solano Counties have all exceeded their 2010 census self-response rates! Marin is 0.3% away from the milestone, Santa Clara is less than 2% away, and San Francisco is about 8% away. To have come so far in the middle of a pandemic say census officials, is a testament to the continued efforts of the its network of partners.

Across California, census officials confirm that an estimated 9.7 million households have already taken the census, with  2 million of those from hardest-to-count homes.

So far, California’s self-response rate is above the national average – 64.1% versus 62.8%, respectively.  California also has had the most households respond to the Census, compared to other states. In census tracts where the foreign-born represent a higher-than-median share of the tract’s population, California has the highest average self-response rate (SRR), making it a national leader among 10 other states with similarly high racial and ethnic diversity (New Jersey and Maryland which are ahead have smaller populations)

But certain census tracts in California and the Bay Area are still lagging.

The California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office has been blanketing the state with multilingual appeals to encourage hard-to-count populations to fill out their 2020 census forms. But an analysis of the response data  shows that many other Californians – including those on the Westside of LA and San Francisco – still need to do their part if the state is going to achieve the same success it had in 2010.

While the Bay Area’s average self-response rate is 70% (less than 2% from the 2010 SRR), the number is only 58% for its hardest-to-count tracts  which have residents who are largely renters, people of color, immigrants, or have limited English proficiency. More than 40% of hardest-to-count communities are still to be enumerated.  In looking at the data, the Census Office noticed a trend – some areas that have been historically easier-to-count are responding at lower rates than normal. in Los Angeles, there are low response rates spanning from Malibu, through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and into Studio City.

Some San Francisco neighborhoods are at a 20 point lag behind the 2010 SSR.  It’s a similar scenario in other parts of the state including the enclaves of Newport Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Census advocates are urging residents to respond on their own, online, by phone, or by mail, so they can be removed from the list of addresses needing an in-person visit by a census taker. They have until August 11 before in-person, door-knocking, follow up operation begins.

The Final Countdown

In the meanwhile, in a final push to keep the count alive, census partners are launching a ‘WEEK OF ACTION’, to promote  the census and engage participation. Activities have included a  #WeHellaCount Twitter Storm to discuss pertinent questions and tweet responses and an aerial ad flying through Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties.

A final phone banking push will continue till  August 14; the Asian Law Caucus has helped create a guide with messaging suggestions to tackle questions on the White House Memo.

The State of CA has planned a few additional activities including their GOTC Virtual Pep Rally Thursday August 6 from 11am-noon.

“The Census is important for everyone. We need all Californians to do their part. We’re calling on all Californians to take the Census by Friday – our Get Out the Count Day, since efforts will begin shifting away from self-response. It’ll take all of us to reach an accurate and complete count,” said Ditas Katague, Director of the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

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