State Sen. Bill Dodd: Here’s a chance for us to make California count

March 04 2020

The Reporter Letters To The Editor PUBLISHED: February 16, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. 

Be counted, California! Nothing less than your money and power are at stake.

The 2020 Census, which kicks off April 1, determines where billions in federal dollars are spent for over 70 federal programs that pay for things like roads and schools. At the same time, the census decides the number of seats states get in the House of Representatives and the allotment of electoral votes toward picking the president.

Suffice it to say, counting every Californian is extremely important.

Yet there are no guarantees, especially in California, a state with historically undercounted communities including renters, young men, kids, African Americans and Latinos. By one estimate, our state was shorted by nearly 3 percent — or 835,000 people — in the 1990 census, and large segments are at risk of being undercounted again this year.

Some say California could be poised to lose a congressional seat.

That’s why California leaders have launched a statewide effort to ensure an accurate and successful count this time around, investing in outreach and communication. The California Complete Count Census 2020 campaign will deploy an army of newly hired census workers, the media and community groups to go to hard-to-reach neighborhoods throughout California and urge participation.

Not surprisingly, many hard-to-count communities are right here in Northern California. From Napa to Vallejo, east along the Interstate 80 corridor and up to Woodland, officials have identified numerous areas where people of diverse demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of being excluded. One census estimate says nearly 45 percent of Senate District 3 — which at last count totaled nearly 970,000 people — have some hard-to-count characteristics.

What are those traits? Renters and people living in apartments present the biggest challenges followed by low-income and foreign-born people. The fear is some families will not participate in the census because of their immigration status. The concern was raised when the Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census.

Others might not respond because they have privacy concerns or worry about having more than the allowable number of people in their home. Roughly 40 percent of district housing is renter occupied and 8 percent moved from outside their county in the past year.

Still others face language barriers. About 10 percent of district residents have limited English skills, according to census estimates. About two-thirds speak Spanish, 11 percent speak Tagalog and 7 percent speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

Some people simply don’t understand what the census is or why it’s so important. About 14 percent do not have access to the internet and 12 percent of adults over 25 didn’t graduate from high school.All of that could skew the results.

Of course, all personal information submitted to the census is kept confidential. Nothing is shared with law enforcement, landlords or anyone else. No one should avoid doing it, regardless of immigration status, age or criminal history. No matter who you are or where you live, everyone counts.

Starting in late March, census forms will be available in paper form, in English and Spanish, as well as online in 12 different languages. Heads of households may begin responding immediately, counting every person living in their household.

Those who do not respond by May can expect a census worker to knock on your door.

And they will be knocking with good reason. Each uncounted person costs Californians about $2,000 per year for the next decade. The loss of information about where people live, how many people there are and what they need can also affect federal for schools, housing and health care.

Money you paid through taxes would instead go to another state.What’s more, the information is used to draw state legislative and congressional district lines, affecting the entire state’s political influence along with the power of certain communities. Even if a state’s total is high enough to maintain its congressional seats, an undercount in an ethnically diverse region could dilute power for that community.

Not responding is not an option.

Educating Californians about the nationwide head count is an important job. Everyone must be involved, whether we’re walking neighborhoods or talking to friends about it. We all must be ambassadors for the census to ensure everyone is counted and California receives the funding and representation it deserves.

— State Sen. Bill Dodd/3rd Senate District, including all or portions of Napa, Yolo, Sonoma, Solano, Sacramento and Contra Costa counties.

The Reporter