[OPINION] This Census is different, but very important

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By Ditas Katague, Director, California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office

2020 has certainly been extraordinary, and what many are calling an unprecedented time. We’ve been hit with a worldwide pandemic, stopping the normal routine of our lives, in addition to facing social unrest due to racism and injustice.

On top of that, our state has been hit with catastrophic wildfires right here in the west. Plus, there’s an upcoming election in November.

Ditas Katague, the director of the California Complete Count

This is my third decennial Census where I’ve led California’s Census efforts to reach the hardest-to-count communities, historically lower responding areas and vulnerable populations. All the challenges mentioned above have added to the difficulty of ensuring a complete and accurate count.

The U.S. Census Bureau has had to operate differently – they’ve changed their operations multiple times and are not working how they have done in the past. Federal workers are part of our community – they are being asked to do more with less resources and with a shorter timeframe.

The Census Headquarters has been asked to compress their well-researched and tested work plan for completing and delivering an accurate count. And possibly cancelling or eliminating key quality assurance operations.

This is abnormal – it’s materially different than the previous two counts in 2010 and 2000. I wish I had more confidence in the Census Bureau’s field data collection operations and data processing that would ensure an accurate count.

In California, we have invested $187.2 million toward a data-intensive, innovative outreach and communications campaign to motivate households to respond to the Census.

So far, we’ve accomplished a number of things – with the help of our stakeholders and partners. We amassed a coalition of over 150 local, regional and statewide partners that served as our trusted messengers and created a social movement infrastructure. They have done great work to ensure Californians self-respond to the Census and although likely exhausted by this extended Census journey, will continue to work with communities to ensure they are civically engaged.

By identifying what the Census is and explaining its tangible benefits, we’ve been able to motivate more than 2 million households in harder-to-count areas to respond, with a total of 10.4 million households self-responding statewide.

This year has also been reflective for me personally, I think about the future that I want to leave behind. There are mixed emotions – thinking about my daughter’s future, while recognizing the struggles my family faced in the past. My daughter just moved abroad to finish her remaining two years in high school and my mom passed away in August.

As I have gone through my mother’s things, I’ve realized that my current work on the Census is about honoring the past and shaping our future, bringing my daughter, and possibly her future children, closer to our roots. Completing the census, being counted is not just for us, but for future generations. It is a gift we give to them now. It’s invaluable.

She can go back in time to see officially where her “Lola” settled in the United States when they came over from the Philippines. She can see how our family moved from Chicago to Kansas City, to Modesto, Pinole, Washington, DC and now, finally settling in Sacramento.

My family set roots in the United States – like so many others have – to provide for their future generations.

And as families participate in the Census, we are all helping form the kind of community we deserve, with the local resources that are rightfully ours.

The 2020 Census is our chance to deliver opportunity and justice to our communities – more streetlights, sidewalks, health services, nutritional programs, educational resources, affordable housing and reliable public transportation and so much more.

By taking the 9-question survey, we can set forth a roadmap for the future of our families, communities and our state. There are three easy ways to fill out the form:

  • 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

You may see a Census worker in your neighborhood since they are following up with households that have yet to respond. If you have any questions or would like some help, they are there for you.

I recommend you answer the Census online or over the phone – this is the best way to ensure your answers are accurate. Plus, you can fill it out in the comfort of your own home.

This year is different – it’s been a surprise to us all, but don’t forget to take your Census. It will make a difference in the long term for your family and community and in recognizing and celebrating your past.

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