Lack of preparation and appropriations have already put the upcoming decennial 2020 Census at risk of an inaccurate count. With less than three of years to go, advocates are making the public aware of the consequences.
While the census looks to find population changes and other information of who makes up the United States, it more importantly uses the derived data to address the nation’s needs, like determining representation of each area in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As previously reported, more than $600 billion is allocated through federal programs based on census data. Among the many programs dependent on the census are those regarding education, assistance for veterans, hospitals, and transportation.
With the census date set at April 1, 2020, the U.S Census Bureau has been hit hard with challenges — such as the resignation of its director and improper funding — which have initiated a detrimental domino effect on needed preparations and tests.
For example, the upcoming census will be the first to be taken online, but lack of testing makes the census vulnerable to an inaccurate count.
The 2020 Census has already been listed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as a “high risk” federal program in its 2017 High Risk Report.
The result? Derailments of important tests and resources, including the measurement element of the dress rehearsal (the only way of evaluation), and assessment strategies of communications, outreach, and partnership programs.
Most likely to feel the repercussions are minority groups and general populations living in hard-to-count areas, say advocates.
California, a state with many diverse communities has already seen groups go underrepresented in previous censuses, and advocates say the risk of them being missed in the next one are still disproportionately high.
“In order for California to receive its fair share of federal funding and political representation, the census bureau must accurately count all of our state’s residences,” said Dr. John Dobard, manager of Political Voice, Advancement Project California.
Distrust and the digital divide
Distrust of the government with personal information, along with the evident digital divide, are key concerns of advocates from across minority groups.
Ofelia Medina, Director of State Civic Engagement Policy for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), found this especially true in the Latino community, which makes up 39 percent of the Californian population.
“It’s going to be really difficult to make sure that they do [participate in the census] when they might not have even dial-up at home,” said Medina, stating that many in California do not have access to internet service.
While libraries and internet cafes may provide internet access, Medina admits that the census might not be much of a priority that people would go out of their way to these places to fill out the census.
The increasing climate of fear incited by rhetoric on immigration enforcement has further been discouraging in communities of color when it comes to participating in programs involving government contact.
“It’s definitely been something we’ve been seeing in the last couple of months,” said Medina referring to recent issues like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
This is also true in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities where approximately 1.3 million are undocumented, according to Stewart Kwoh, Founding President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles (AAJC).
“They don’t want anybody, including their own family members, to know often times,” said Kwoh.
According to the California Department of Finance, 20.5 percent of Californians live in hard-to-count areas, or communities at high risks of not being fully counted as designated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Ten of the 50 hard-to-count counties in the nation are in California, accounting for an estimated 8.4 million people.
Furthermore, one in three (34.3 percent) of Hispanics in California live in hard-to-count areas. For Asian Americans, it is one out of every five (19 percent).
Especially at risk of being undercounted are California’s more than 2.5 million children who would thus be beneficiaries of data derived allocations after the census.
“The greatest amount of children that will not be counted are the children that are being born right now, up until 2020,” said Medina.
Of the top 100 places with the highest percent of children living in hard-to-count areas, 16 are in California — Black and Hispanic children hold highest net undercounts.
Medina stressed that in California specifically, the last 2010 Census significantly undercounted Latino children.
“Nationwide, about 400,000 under the age of five were not counted in the census. About 113,000 of them were from California,” said Medina.
These undercounts come not only from Los Angeles County, but from counties of Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Santa Clara, San Bernardino, and Alameda, added Medina.
For Native American communities, the issue of being undercounted is one of identity. During the 2000 Census, a number of tribes in the San Diego County were recorded at zero.
“That is statistical genocide,” said Dr. Joely Proudfit, Director of Californian Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center, and Professor at California State University, San Marcos.
Asian Americans and data disaggregation
Legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAJC) has been formally conducting census campaigns since the 1990s.
“This is probably the most important census,” said Kwoh.
A little over 15 percent of the Californian population, and six percent of the U.S. population, belong to the AAPI community.
The 2010 Census found that Filipino-Americans became the largest Asian American group in California, while Chinese Americans remained the largest in the U.S. In LA County, Filipino and Koreans were the two largest, and Thai Americans were seeing new growth as well.
“If you don’t have an accurate census, you won’t know any of this,” said Kwoh. “If you lump all Asians together, then you really don’t know us at all.”
Disaggregated data from the census is very important and is needed to ensure specific communities are served accordingly whether in education, health, or other needed programs.
Nevada for example, is one of the three states with the fastest growing Asian populations, said Kwoh. When looking at the data, Filipinos made up half of the overall Asian population.
“Let’s say there’s a disaster in Nevada. Wouldn’t you want to know that Filipinos are half the Asian population? And how you are going to outreach to them?,” Kwoh told Asian Journal.
“Culturally, in language, you need to have that disaggregated data. Otherwise the government agencies are almost blind to who they are serving. It’s crucial.”
While the current 2020 Census proposal provides checkbox options and a write-in option for more detailed ethnicity descriptions, making sure people are included at all in the census remains the biggest issue. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)