By OMAR CARRERA |September 23, 2018 at 10:00 am
It may be 2018 but we need to start talking about the 2020 Census because this time, Marin’s democracy, well-being and prosperity are at stake.
This pressing issue should unite nonprofits, funders, educational institutions, government and local businesses. Although two years seem far off, preparation for the 2020 Census has already started, and as local community leaders we have the opportunity to promote an accurate count.
Taking the census is a critical process that must happen in the U.S. every 10 years. For each state, the results determine the allocation of federal funding and seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 2020 Census risks the highest under-count in recent history for several key reasons:
- Lack of resources in the Census Bureau.
- For the first time, 55 percent of the population will take the census questionnaire online.
- The potential addition of a citizenship question.
For every Californian missed during the Census 2020 count, the state is expected to lose about $1,950 per person per year for 10 years in federal program funding, according to Ditas Katague, director of the state Complete Count Committee.
Since 2012, the Census Bureau has suffered a $200 million budget shortfall, resulting in a cut of thousands of Census employees. This reduction includes both enumerators and outreach workers who have the language and cultural competencies to reach many historically under-counted communities.
Increasing census participation within our communities, we will reduce the need for enumerators, reducing the impact of less funding in our county.
In an effort to reduce costs, the Census Bureau will distribute the questionnaire online for the majority of the population (55 percent) rather than exclusive use of paper surveys. This means that for the first time in census history, people who don’t have computer access or the skills to navigate through the internet will have an additional barrier. The questionnaire will be offered in various languages on the census website; however, English proficiency is required to navigate the system or request assistance.
By mobilizing now, we can start preparing our community for the new changes simply by making them aware of how they will receive the census questionnaire. Early planning will help us identify facilities such as schools, libraries, community centers, etc. that we can utilize for questionnaire assistance centers. It also affords us time to identify and train volunteers who have the skills and languages to interact with our diverse communities.
By adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the Commerce Department has escalated concerns about under-counting for immigrant and minority groups who are fearful and would be uncomfortable answering questions from a government employee. As trusted voices within our community, we have the opportunity to change our community’s perspective toward this issue.
Although census answers are confidential by law, we can’t guarantee the safety of the most vulnerable among us. What we can do is educate and empower them to make an informed decision based on the advantages and disadvantages of their participation.
Most importantly, by raising awareness about the importance of census data and encouraging participation collectively, we can increase our political, economic and demographic power. This is why we encourage you to attend our census awareness event, Make Marin Count: 2020 Census, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Dominican University of California.
Our panel will include experts on the impact census data has on narrowing the equity gap in Marin County. As trusted messengers we are in the unique position to reach hard-to-count areas through personal contact, cultural familiarity and issue-focused discussions. Achieving an accurate count in the 2020 Census will help make Marin a place where everyone can live, work and succeed.
Omar Carrera is executive director of the San Rafael-based Canal Alliance.