Every 10 years, the US census takes a snapshot count of every person who lives in the United States, as of April 1st. According to 2015 data, more than 80% of total federal funds received by California was related to the census. Since Federal funds support more than one-third of California’s total spending, it is very important that California has an accurate count.
Updated data from the 2020 census will affect funding for a wide range of state programs including Medicaid, Medi-Cal, Section 8 housing vouchers, highway construction, school lunch programs, and special education, among many others.
India Currents talked with Jeffrey Enos – Deputy Regional Director, Los Angeles Region, U.S. Census Bureau, about the scope and relevance of the census for our state.
What is at stake for California and all Americans with the Census 2020?
Hundreds of billions of dollars every single year is distributed to communities across the country based on census data. We only do the census, once every 10 years. So, we are talking about trillions of dollars, distributed to communities across the country, every decade based on the census count. And we have one chance to get the census right and so, it’s very important that everyone is counted so that first of all, all of our communities receive all of the federal funding that they deserve and they need to move forward.
Secondly, census data determines representation at all levels of government. For the state of California, within the house of representatives, the number of representatives allocated to each state is based on the census figure. Additionally, in state government, the number of representatives for each area is based on census figures and then you can take it down to a lower level of geography; at the local area, looking at school district boundaries, voting districts, etc.
Additionally, local leaders use census data, census statistics, census count, etc. to determine needs for their community. Where is the young population growing? Where do we need new schools? And where is the population aging? Where do we need additional services for seniors? Where do we need new hospitals? Where is the infrastructure, roads, bridges? Where is the population expanding so that we need new roads? Where do we need to expand mass transit etc?
So many decisions by leaders in our communities, leaders of our cities, leaders of our state of California, and our national leaders, use census data. The census data allows them to make informed, educated decisions.
How has the participation been so far?
So far, California’s participation rate is very encouraging. The self-response rate is (59.6%) for the state and that is actually higher than the national numbers, so that is very encouraging. But we have a long way to go because we want to get to 100%.
So, there is still a lot of work to do to get the word out to get people to self respond. The Bay Area is making great progress, many of the counties are above 60% already.
(As of May 9, the self-response rate in Santa Clara is 68.2%, San Mateo is 69.1%, Alameda – 65.8%, San Francisco – 56.6%)
Do areas with more people of color have a lower response rate?
There are many different variables that impact self-response, for example: households that don’t speak English as their first language or don’t speak English well, households that have immigrants, lower-income households, renters. There are many different variables that impact self-response based on decades and decades of censuses and years and years of research. So, those are some of the major variables that have correlation as far as self-response rates.
What are the deadlines to self-report? When will the enumerators start going door to door?
The deadline for self-reporting has been moved to Oct 31st (from July 31st). Oct 31 st is the final deadline for all responses, including self-response and the field responses that we do.
Later this summer, in August, is when we will send out our census takers to interview those households that have not returned their census questionnaire yet. So, that does not preclude people from filling out their census after we knock on their door but obviously we want to encourage as many households as possible to fill out their census now so that we minimize the need to go door to door and face-to-face, especially under the pandemic conditions.
How do you ensure somebody is not counted twice? What if the enumerator comes to the door and someone in the household has filled out the form online?
There is a 12 digit unique code for each address and that’s how we pull up addresses for our field workload. Once we get a response from that unique ID, we will not go to that household.
There was a lot of confusion earlier with talk of the additional citizenship question in the census, which has since been removed. But the question remains, who is counted in the census?
We count everyone living or staying in the United States as of April 1st, 2020. We don’t ask immigration status, we don’t ask citizenship status either. I want to let you know, the census is safe to fill out. We don’t ask those questions, and also we cannot share this census information, individual census records.
We are restricted by Title 13 of the US Code, which is a federal statute that states that we cannot share individual census records with any government agency, any private or public company or organization, or individual for that matter. As far as the census record, we cannot share the data with the IRS, we can’t share with immigration, we can’t share with housing authorities to name a few as an example.
What else should our readers know about the Census2020?
The census is simple, its 10 questions, its less than 10 minutes. You can go online 2020census.gov or call our toll free number, 8443302020 or you can fill out the paper form and send it in.
The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories, whether you are a citizen, legal resident, or otherwise.
Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.
Edited by Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.