Guest column: California’s stake in the 2020 Census (opinion)
December 19, 2017
Alarms about poor preparations for the constitutionally-mandated 2020 Census are ringing across the nation, but perhaps no louder than in California. The Golden State, and our almost 39 million residents, have the largest stake in a fair and accurate census.
The U.S. Constitution requires a new count of the country's population every 10 years. It's a massive undertaking, involving more than a decade of planning, elaborate tests of new counting methods, extensive outreach to a more diverse and mobile population, and hiring a temporary workforce of more than half a million to contact those who fail to self-respond.
But so far, our nation's policymakers have severely underfunded preparations for the 2020 Census by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The census is more than a head count. The framers intended it to ensure the fair allocation of political power. Population data from the census are used for the reapportionment of congressional seats and the redistricting of California's state and local government political districts.
Census data also guide $87 billion annually in federal funds to the Golden State. These funds are for such vital needs as Medicaid and Medicare (Part B), Head Start, school lunch programs, highways and transportation, and housing assistance. All depend on the census count.
Just as importantly, census data are used in civil rights and voting rights enforcement. The information is used to protect access to the ballot, to monitor discrimination, and to examine economic equality.
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Presently, the Census Bureau's annual budget sits stalled at last year's level because of a continuing resolution passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. The administration and Congress have yet to act on more funding.
California is more than the largest state, it is the most diverse state in the nation. For the Census Bureau, whose job is to count and place every resident of our state, the challenge in California may be greater than anywhere else in the nation.
Latinos are one of the fastest growing population groups in California. They represent about 40 percent of the population and increased by 9 percent since the last census. Nationally, Latinos have one of the highest undercounts of any population group in the census. So, one of the largest, growing segments of California's population is going to be one of the most difficult to count in the next census.
Historically, the Census Bureau put serious resources into neighborhoods with large communities of color. This trend is now threatened by insufficient funding for the 2020 Census.
In California at least 25 percent of residents, or 9.7 million people, are in localities least likely to be fully counted because they reside in what the Census Bureau calls "hard-to-count" tracts. Communities of color make up a large portion of these tracts. In California, 38 percent of African Americans, 34 percent of Latinos and 19 percent of Asians live in Hard-To-Count areas, according to the Census Bureau.
Californians cannot afford to wait until 2020 to protect our stake in the national head count. The time to send an alarm to Washington, D.C. policy makers is now.
The Trump Administration recently asked Congress to increase funding for the Census Bureau in 2018 by $187 million to make up for past under-investment. We believe the appropriate increase is closer to $400 million to get started in outreach, partnership and testing of new operations that hope to ensure a complete, fair and accurate count.
We encourage readers to contact their senators and representatives in Washington, D.C. now, before the final 2018 funding bill is considered in December. Our state has too much at stake for the next decade to settle for anything less.
John Dobard is manager of Political Voice, Advancement Project California, a next generation, multiracial civil rights organization. Arturo Vargas is the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. This column previously appeared in The Mercury News.