California Census Hits Benchmark for Hard-to-Count Populations — But Wealthy Communities Far Behind

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By SUNITA SOHRABJI, EMS Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s Census self-response rate is a nationwide leader, but many residents in the state’s wealthy enclaves have yet to respond.

9.7 million households in the state have already responded — more than 64 percent — but more than 2 million households have not participated in the nine-question online survey at census2020.gov. A mail-in form is also available.

California’s self-response rate is higher than the national average – slightly more than 64 percent versus 62.8 percent throughout the country as of July 30, according to data from California Complete Count-Census 2020. California also has the highest average self-response rate in census tracts where a large percentage of residents are foreign-born.

As part of its original strategy, California Complete Count focused its outreach on 3.5 to 4.1 million households considered “hardest-to-count” because they lack access to broadband Internet and therefore cannot complete the online form. Hard-to-count households may also speak English as a second language and live at or near the poverty line.

So far, 2 million hard-to-count households have responded, which meets the state’s initial target and puts it ahead of 10 other states with similarly high racial and ethnic diversity. California has the largest number of hard-to-count households in the country, according to California Complete Count.

Surprisingly, however, wealthy cities in the state — which in past censuses have been easy to count — have had a lower response rate in the 2020 census. In posh Malibu, for example, self-response rates dipped to 36 percent. In San Francisco, wealthy neighborhoods such as Cow Hollow, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and the Presidio have self-response rates of 53 percent, a startling drop from the 2010 census, when these neighborhoods exceeded 70 percent.

Ditas Katague, longtime director of California Complete Count-Census 2020, the state’s initiative to ensure an accurate census count, said during an Aug. 3 press briefing that there are only a few days left to respond to avoid enumerators coming knocking at the door. All residents in the country are required to respond to the Census regardless of immigration status.

“This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Face-to-face contact is limited,” she said, also noting the uncertainty of door-to-door field work.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced Aug. 3 that he was cutting short the time for field data collection. Earlier, enumerators were scheduled to continue knocking on doors until Oct. 31. But Dillingham’s memo said field operations would end on Sept. 30 to ensure that the bureau would meet its statutory deadline of Dec. 31 for delivering census results to the White House.

The shortened timeline for data collection immediately evoked response from critics. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) issued a series of tweets Aug. 4, stating: “Last night’s announcement that the 2020 Census will be cut short before its work is done is yet another example of this administration’s blatant assault on our Constitution and our democracy.”

“Trump has been trying to undermine the Census since before it began. The House will continue to investigate these abuses. With only 6 in 10 people counted so far, I urge the commerce secretary and census director to insist on conducting the full count as mandated by our Constitution,” tweeted Hoyer.

Katague said she was deeply concerned that field work might be cut short. “A successful count involves enough enumerators and enough timing.”

“We risk a historic undercount,” she said.

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