In summary

The next two months are critical for the 2020 Census count, with bureau workers following up with unresponsive households starting Aug. 11.

By Ditas Katague, Special to CalMatters

Ditas Katague is the director of the California Complete Count – Census 2020 office, press@census.ca.gov.

We are at a pivotal time in our nation’s history – not only are we re-evaluating what it means to have equity and justice for all, but we also are facing a momentous civic engagement opportunity in the next few months. No, not the election – it’s the 2020 Census.

For some, the Census is a snapshot in time that comes and goes every 10 years – they participate because they know they must. Others, especially those new to this country, are not familiar with the process and need extra information. Others are busy working multiple jobs or caring for loved ones and simply don’t have the time.

We knew some of these Californians – those who are likely harder to count – would need extra information to be motivated to complete their forms.

So, when California started preparing for the 2020 Census, we focused on the 3.5 million to 4.1 million hardest-to-count households, with a goal of reaching at least 2 million of the hardest-to-count households to respond.

California met that goal. Out of an estimated 9.7 million Californian households that have responded, these 2 million homes represent families that otherwise would have been missed by federal outreach efforts and whose participation constitutes one small, but foundational, step in getting the services and representation they deserve.

We focused on these households – people who don’t have reliable internet access, don’t speak English, and live at or near the poverty line – because they have been overlooked in past Census counts and are at an even greater risk of being missed in a digital Census. Securing their participation is essential for our democracy and the growth of our communities because the data helps determine how much federal funding and political representation each state and community receives.

California’s strategy has been to leverage trusted messengers to persuade Californians to respond. The fact that we have successfully reached our milestone – despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic impacts – is a significant success worth recognizing. It’s evidence that our office and partners were nimble and adjusted tactics to find new and innovative ways to reach the hardest-to-count Californians, while also protecting public health.

In looking at the data, we also noticed an unanticipated trend – some historically easier-to-count areas have been responding at lower rates than normal. Take San Francisco as an example. Seeing tracts in the Marina, Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights and Presidio neighborhoods register at about 53% Census participation was surprising, particularly when response rates in many of these areas exceeded 70% in 2010. We did not expect to see a nearly 20-percentage point lag among these San Francisco neighborhoods.

Likewise, in Los Angeles, we see low response rates spanning from Malibu, through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and into Studio City. Even though some of these cities were far below the California statewide self-response rate in 2010, the current 36% response rate in parts of Malibu and the 21-point gap from 2010 is unprecedented. It’s a similar scenario in other parts of the state including the enclaves of Newport Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The next two months are critical, and our campaign will focus on lower-responding areas. We are concerned by the recent announcement from the U.S. Census Bureau that they will be closing operations on Sept. 30, a month earlier than anticipated. Census Bureau workers will begin following up with unresponsive households starting on Aug. 11. However, we remain focused on promoting a fair and accurate count through our campaign, giving a voice to the diverse communities that make our state great.

How to take part in the Census: 

  • Online at my2020census.gov
  • By phone at 844-330-2020 (a list of in-language options is available here)
  • By mail if you received a paper form

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