Census 2020: Quest to tally hard-to-count populations

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This post was originally featured on VC Reporter, and can be found here. 

Jose works in the strawberry fields in Ventura County. He is worried about filling out the upcoming census questionnaire. Although he is living in this country legally, he has friends and family that are not. He has heard stories of what might happen to him and his family if the authorities locate him through the census questionnaire.

Sally is a college student attending CSUCI and living in Ventura County. When not attending classes, she lives with her family in Arizona. She is confused about whether she should complete the census as a resident of California or Arizona. So she will probably simply avoid it.

Both Jose and Sally are examples of Ventura County’s “Hard To Count” population. Other groups that are hard to count include homeless, low-income, undocumented, young and mobile, children, LGBT, racial and ethnic minorities, seniors, and non-fluent English speakers.

Why is it so important that these Hard To Count populations are included in the Census 2020?

The results of the census, which is constitutionally mandated to be conducted every 10 years, guides $71 billion in federal funds to California. This represents nearly $2,000 per person counted. Over a period of 10 years, this equals a loss of $20,000 per uncounted person. Estimates indicate 41,515 Hard To Count individuals reside in Ventura County. The math shows our county would lose nearly $1 billion if those people are not counted.

These dollars fund a plethora of services such as school lunches, education, healthcare, employment, law enforcement and social services.

Census numbers also determine redistricting of legislative districts, forecasting future transportation needs, determining areas eligible for housing assistance and rehabilitation loans, and designing facilities for people with disabilities, the elderly and children.

The 2010 census failed to count 1.5 million people in California. At $20,000 per person over the 10-year period, California missed out on billions of federal dollars.

Ventura County ranks in the top 2 percent of about 3,000 counties in the country most at risk of being undercounted. Several barriers exist for a complete count including education levels, income and geography. But a serious obstacle to counting our invisible residents is their lack of internet access, especially in Oxnard and Santa Paula. This year’s census will be conducted in large part electronically.

So as not to lose out on so much federal funding, the Governor is determined to improve the count for the upcoming census. Therefore, in preparation for Census 2020, California is investing $100 million to mobilize all counties to form committees to ensure the Hard To Count populations are included.

Ventura County is part of Region 5, which includes six counties. At 41 percent, Ventura County has the largest Hard To Count population in this region.

The main tasks of Ventura County’s committee will be to Educate county residents about the process and timing, to Motivate people to participate in the census questionnaire, and to Activate all segments of the county to ensure public participation in the survey.

Motivating people to participate includes dispelling myths and ensuring them that all information given in the survey will be strictly confidential. By law, government is not allowed to share the individual information collected through a census survey with anyone.

It is still uncertain whether the survey will ask whether a person is a citizen or not. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on this citizenship question by the end of June. California is concerned that asking people about their citizenship could scare immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the census, thereby reducing the count as well as federal funds available for critical services throughout the state.

Dr. Cynder Sinclair is the CEO Community Action of Ventura County.

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