Unrest, Pandemic Underscore Importance of Census Count

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Jason Tajima of L.A. County CEO Census unit urges JAs to fill out Census form.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Jason Tajima, principal analyst with the L.A. County Chief Executive Office in the Census Unit, is urging Japanese Americans to fill out the census form.  

The decennial Census is used to calculating funding for vital programs such as schools, roads and housing. 

Jason Tajima

Tajima worked in Little Tokyo as a Getty intern at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and also as a reporter for a summer in the English section of The Rafu Shimpo with then-English Editor John Saito. 

He said recent protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis underscore the need for the funding of services that are determined by the Census count. 

“The outcry among people in L.A. County and throughout the country certainly cannot be ignored. And the message they have sent is unmistakable – they demand change and want a brighter future,” Tajima said.

“We must all work together to build lasting change to help communities throughout the county. Injustice does not belong in our community. But funding for resources like education, health, parks, and jobs does. As does political representation to ensure communities have a voice in how policies and funding impact them. 

“And one important and simple way to building a brighter future and achieving change is by making sure that EVERYONE fills out their census form, and is counted in the Census.”

The undercount, at this juncture, is severe. As an example, he noted that the count in 2010 in Little Tokyo was 56%; at this point it is at 39%. 

Parts of L.A. County that have the lowest response rates to the 2020 Census also have some of the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which may complicate the county’s efforts to increase responses, according to a report recently released by UCLA.

Census workers began delivering materials on March 15 but suspended all fieldwork on March 18 due to protective stay-at-home orders.

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau resumed hand-delivering questionnaires to select households in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The operation will be contactless. Field staffers have been trained to observe social distancing protocols and will wear official government-provided personal protective equipment for their own safety as well as the safety of the public.

Census invitations and paper questionnaires will be dropped at the front doors of roughly 5.1 million statewide households, including 25,001 households within Los Angeles County and 8,093 households in Riverside County.

From the Japanese-language section of the Census 2020 website. Translation: “The shape of the future starts here.”

For the Japanese American community, Tajima noted that culturally sensitive services and in-language translations are determined by the count. In terms of aging Sansei and Nisei, he noted that funding for senior housing is determined by Census data.

“We really want to make sure the JA community is counted in the Census. Areas such as determining which polling places need materials in Japanese, programs such as senior health and nutrition, culturally sensitive services — all that is important to get a complete picture in the Census,” he said.

For cultural institutions in the JA community, such as the Japanese American National Museum and JACCC, Census data is used to guide how over $250 million in federal funding each year is allocated for programs by the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities.

Tajima emphasized that in a time of turmoil, a full Census count can spur economic recovery, ensure political representation and bring about positive changes for minorities communities — but only if everyone is counted.

“These recent events only magnify the importance and impact of the Census in L.A. County,” Tajima said. “The true purpose of an accurate count is to improve our communities for the next 10 years. More people counted means more money for our public schools to educate our children; increases in school lunch programs and support for seniors; more resources for hospitals to respond to health needs like COVID-19. The Census can help bring that change for the better. But we must be counted.“

To complete the census, visit: www.2020census.gov

To complete the census in Japanese, visit www.2020census.gov/ja.html, or to participate over the phone in Japanese, call (844) 460-2020.

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