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Get Ready for the 2020 U.S. Census in California

Next year, California will help the U.S. government count its population for the 2020 Census. According to Vann Newkirk II, a staff writer for The Atlantic, "[T]he census is vital to the country's functioning. It's not just a count of all households. It's also an augur of political, economic, and cultural forces - a predictor and allocator of power."

Most Americans believe the census is only about tracking population and statistical trends. Many citizens don't realize the study can impact funding to critical services and programs. 

Why is the 2020 Census so important, and how will it shape California's future? In today's article, you'll about the upcoming 2020 Census and how it can impact the state. We'll also tell you how to prepare your community for the census.


The Purpose of the U.S. Census

The 2020 Census will offer a comprehensive portrait of the nation's population. Every ten years, the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a systematic count of the nation's population. The Census Bureau will use its $15.6 billion budget to gather demographics about U.S. residents. It has received lower funding this year than in previous Census years.

These statistics provide a snapshot of the nation's changing racial and ethnic makeup. The bureau will gather information about the following categories:

  • Address
  • Age
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Home Ownership
  • Household Members


How the Bureau Collects Responses

The Census Bureau will give American households the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. Almost every household will receive a letter invitation to participate from postal or census workers. 

For the first time, the federal agency plans to collect 55 percent of Census responses online. Areas that are less likely to respond online will receive a letter invitation and paper questionnaire. The notice will also have information about how to reply by phone or online. 

Five percent of American households will receive letter invitations from census workers who drop off a form. Census takers will count one percent of households in person. It will take place remote areas in Northern Maine, Alaska, and on Native American reservations.

Upcoming Census Dates to Remember

  • March 12 - 20: Residents will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census. Some households will also receive paper questionnaires.
  • March 16-24: The bureau will send out reminder letters.
  • March 26 - April 3: Individuals who don't respond should receive a postcard notice.
  • April 8-16: People will receive notices to complete the letter invitation and paper questionnaire.
  • April 20-28: Non-respondents will get a final reminder postcard before a census taker shows up in person.



Census data will demonstrate how California's population has evolved

The federal government uses the census data it collects to develop annual surveys. This research provides demographic insights into California's racial and ethnic composition. The statistics also offer details about the economic well-being of Californians. 

According to current demographic data collected by the Census Bureau, the agency found that California's population has expanded. Today, the state has more than 39,557,045 people, an increase of 6.2 percent since the 2010 census.

The state's racial origins include:

  • Non-Hispanic or Latino Whites -36.8 percent
  • Hispanic or Latino - 39.3 percent
  • Black or African Americans - 6.5 percent
  • American Indian and Native Americans - 1.6 percent
  • Asian descent - 15.3 percent
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander - 0.5 percent
  • Two or More Races - 3.9 percent


Why Does an Accurate Census Count Matter for California?

Every year, the U.S. government uses census data to determine how it will allocate $600 billion in tax funds to state governments. This money supports education, Medicare, highways, housing, and law enforcement programs. It distributes resources to communities based on a per capita basis.

In 2017, the government released a working paper called the "Uses of Census Bureau Data in Federal Funds Distribution." The study found that 132 national programs utilized the agency's statistics to disseminate $675 billion during the 2015 fiscal year.

According to the PPIC, an undercount of California's residents may affect initiatives that serve citizens. In 2016, the state's population received $115 billion in national resources based on Census data.

The money went to organizations like Medi-Cal (the state's Medicaid program), which get a strict funding allocation. An undercount can have a modest impact on some initiatives, although its impact is hard to estimate.

Census-related programs that are essential to Californians include:

  • The Medical Assistance Program - $44.2 Billion
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - $7.5 Billion
  • Medicare Part B (Supplemental Medical Insurance) $6.5 Billion
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers -$3.5 Billion
  • Highway Planning and Construction - $3.2 Billion
  • State Children's Health Insurance Program - $1.7 Billion
  • Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies - $1.7 Billion
  • National School Lunch Program - $1.4 Billion
  • Foster Care (Title IV-E) $1.3 Billion
  • Special Education Grants (IDEA) - $1.2 Billion.

California has 70 federal programs that rely on federal money. They utilize census data and population counts as part of their funding formulas. These programs include blocks for mental health services, assistance to firefighters, English language acquisition grants, and formula grants for rural areas.

California is susceptible to a population undercount in the 2020 Census

According to the League of California Cities, the 2020 Census is the first to collect the majority of surveys online. Since the federal bureau hasn't received sufficient funding, it couldn't conduct beta testing on the new digital-based process.

Californian stakeholders have additional concerns about the new, internet-based process. Since the process is online, Census servers may face cybersecurity attacks from hackers. Additionally, privacy concerns may drive down census survey completion rates.

Many of the state's residents belong to historically undercounted populations. These groups include racial and ethnic minorities, children, young men, and renters. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), these groups are now a significant part of the state's communities. Some of these populations use digital technology at lower rates.

Unfortunately, the rate for undercounted populations consistently remains high. The 2010 Census inaccurately counted California residents by .025 percent (or 95,000). This statistic was an improvement over previous undercounts in 1990 (2.74 percent) and 2000 (1.52 percent).

The federal government typically undercounts 12 Californian populations during the U.S. Census.

  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • Asian Americans
  • Black Californians
  • Californians Experiencing Homelessness
  • Californians with Disabilities
  • Latinos
  • LGBTQ Californians
  • Muslim Americans
  • Native Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders
  • Refugees
  • Rural Immigrant & Migrant Farmworkers
  • Young Children


Immigrants in California may be hesitant to participate in the upcoming census

California has more immigrants than any other state in the union. The region is home to 10 million immigrants. Twenty-seven percent of its population is foreign-born, twice that of others. According to statistics from the Public Policy Institute of California

  • About 52 percent of the state's immigrant population are naturalized citizens.
  • Thirty-four percent have some other legal status (green cards and visas).
  • Fourteen percent are undocumented immigrants.

From 2010 to 2017, the number of undocumented immigrants in the state has declined. Political rhetoric and operations targeting immigrants have raised concerns among foreign-born citizens. 

The newly proposed inclusion of a citizenship question may deter immigrants, even those here legally, from answering the Census letter invitation. This political climate may make it more difficult for the Census Bureau to obtain data from undocumented individuals. 

Foreign-born residents represented at least one-third of the population in five California counties:

  • Santa Clara (39 percent)
  • San Francisco (36 percent)
  • San Mateo (35 percent)
  • Los Angeles (34 percent)
  • Alameda (33 percent).

Half of California's children have at least one immigrant parent.


Population undercounts can affect the state's political representation

The federal government relies on Census data to allocate 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. California should retain its 53 seats based on its current population.

The state's political representation can change if the Census Bureau undercounts residents. For example,  hard-to-count individuals include immigrants or migrant workers.

This issue places many communities at risk for an undercount since 75 percent of California's citizens fall into this category. Los Angeles County is one of the hardest regions to count. These include the following areas.

  • Central Los Angeles
  • East Los Angeles
  • Long Beach
  • The San Fernando Valley
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • Pomona
  • Palmdale

This problem can cause the Census Bureau to undercount the state's population by more than 1.6 million people. California could lose a Congressional seat if this occurs. Politicians and stakeholders will use the data to redraw district lines. Undercounts can also shift political representation away from larger, low-income communities of color to smaller, wealthier areas.

Accuracy will ensure that local citizens receive fair political representation. California allocated $100 million in its 2017-2018 budget to ensure a precise 2020 Census count. They proposed another $54 million for 2019-2020. The investment exceeds funds spent by any other. It will disseminate this funding to hard-to-count counties, with options for local governments, nonprofits, media, and schools to receive money to assist with outreach efforts.



Conducting Outreach Efforts

The Census Policy Advocacy Network has completed a demographic study of several hard-to-count communities in California. Here are snapshots of some of California's largest ones.

1.) Asian Americans

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles conducted a 2016 poll. It found that 29 percent of Asian Americans followed Asian new sources. The federal government considers one-third of the state's Asian-American residents as limited English proficient.

The Pew Research Center survey discovered that 95 percent of English-speaking Americans use the internet. This community also has the highest rates of limited English proficiency.

California stakeholders must address the language and the digital divide since the primary 2020 Census response is through the internet. Organizations should translate materials into different Asian languages.

Find out more information by downloading this document from CPAN.

2.) Latinos

Latinos are one of the state's largest populations. Many Latinos are considered hard to count by the Census agency. These groups include immigrants, young children, and those with low English-language proficiencies. Additionally, one-third of Latinos (34 percent) live in HTC tracts.

The bureau's emphasis on the internet as the primary response method disfavors this group, because many lack broadband access at home, compared to Whites. Both English and Spanish-dominant Latinos use traditional, social, and digital media. More than 35 percent of Latinos are foreign-born and live in mixed-status families. They may believe their information will not remain confidential and avoid online forms. The group should receive translated materials to increase participation.

Find out more on this website.

3.) Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

The racial category "NHPI" encompasses 20 distinct communities. Some organizations rely on the "Asian Pacific Islander" racial category, without recognizing the significant differences between NHPI and Asian Americans.

The Pacific Islander (PI) communities face distinct immigration challenges that can affect their ability to access services. Almost 19.5 percent of NHPI are foreign-born. These include Fijian (78 percent) and Tongan Americans (43 percent).

Local government should use trusted messengers in their outreach efforts to NHPI communities. These groups will vary by ethnic group and age. For details, visit this page.

4.) Muslim Americans

The Pew Research Center estimates that Muslims were 3.45 million (1.1 percent) of the total U.S. population in 2017. Muslims comprise one percent of California's residents. Almost 9.6 million live in hard-to-count census tracts. Twenty-seven percent are foreign-born.

Muslim Americans may decline to participate in the Census because of the current political climate. For details, visit this page.

Download a full list of demographic briefs from the Census Policy Advocacy Network (CPAN).


A Census Action Plan for California's Local Governments

The California Census office sponsored a kick-off event in April to raise awareness about the upcoming process.  The state has directly allocated almost $70 million to country, tribal, and community-based organizations for outreach efforts.

Starting in 2017, philanthropic organizations, such as California Endowment and Irvine Foundation, pledged $20 million to support local and regional census work. They also supported the activities of the CPAN.

Local stakeholders should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. To achieve an accurate count, execute the following plan.

  • Create Complete Count Committees - These volunteer organizations help increase awareness and motivate the community to participate in the Census.
  • Use effective promotions to reach out to undercounted groups - Research and coordinate messages that will encourage targeted communities to participate in the 2020 Census.
  • Increase community-based outreach - Engage local groups that the Census Bureau traditionally undercounts, and establish a Questionnaire Assistance Center.
  • Make online access more available - Set up locations where people can complete the Census in libraries and school laboratories.
  • Encourage participation - Stakeholders should conduct an outreach campaign to engage undercounted communities. Encourage individuals to complete Census forms. Boost participation by working with organizations that residents trust.
  • Translate all Census outreach materials - Californian municipalities should translate all Census outreach materials into different languages for limited English persons.


Getting an accurate 2020 Census count is critical for Californians. The government uses its findings to allocate taxpayer money. Several Californian programs may lose funding if there is a population undercount. Decision-makers should use translators and interpreters to communicate with hard-to-count communities.

The Language Network has expert translators and interpreters that can help your company. We can translate outreach documents that will explain the 2020 Census Process to residents. Contact us to request a free translation quote today. You may also call our offices at (949) 733-2446.

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