Why does the census matter?

Census data is used to apportion the number of House members to which each state is entitled every 10 years. Congressional seats equal more power, and California holds 53 of the 435 seats. Census data also determines the population figures that in turn help determine the distribution of federal funding. A higher population generally means more federal money for a state.

This is why California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla is pushing to ensure an accurate population count through his 2020 census initiative. It’s also why there has been debate around whether to include a citizenship question on surveys — a move that critics say would discourage immigrant participation and thus risk an artificially low headcount in this state.  

Democratic state legislators already complain that Californians pay more in federal taxes than the state gets back in federal spending. The difference isn’t much: For every dollar of taxes paid in 2017, California received $0.99 in federal expenditures, according to a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. But the national average is $1.22, and a smaller headcount could widen this disparity.