By Matthew Reagan
Tens of millions of dollars in federal funding are at risk of being lost unless many more residents of Northeast Los Angeles participate in the 2020 Census.
The census has been underway for more than two months, but the recent self-response rate for NELA has averaged only 51.9%, according to data from the California Census Office. That is nearly 20 percentage points behind the 71.8% final response rate in the 2010 census, which was itself a crippling undercount.
The census is used to determine how much money the federal government sends to a state for health, education, affordable housing, nutrition and other vital services. In California, the state loses $2,000 for every person in L.A. County who goes uncounted, or $20,000 per person over the decade covered by the census. California residents can’t afford to leave that kind of money on the table, especially now, as the state and its localities grapple with increased expenses and budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic.
Covid-19 has been an obstacle to a robust census. The first invitation to complete the 2020 Census went out around mid-March, when L.A. residents were just beginning to cope with daily disruptions from the coronavirus shutdown. The shutdown also thwarted public efforts to increase census visibility, such as tabling at festivals, fairs, farmers markets and other community events.
Acknowledging the slow start, the Census Bureau has extended the deadline to complete the census — online or by phone or mail — to October 31. Outreach to raise awareness of the census has ramped up on social media. State and L.A. city agencies are also working remotely with community-based organizations to increase the response rate.
Giovany Hernandez, the California senior census program manager for the NALEO Education Fund, an L.A.-based nonprofit focused on Latino participation in the American political process, says organizers are optimistic response rates will climb substantially.
However, Hernandez notes, “We still have a long way to go,” especially in historically undercounted areas, including Latino communities and tracts with low levels of English proficiency.
Hernandez says that, in NELA, organizers will concentrate their efforts in Highland Park, which is home to two census tracts with the area’s lowest response rates, 37.3% and 41.6%. Overall, the recent response rate in nearly two out of five census tracts in NELA is just under 50%.
Hernandez also says that those who have already responded to the census can play an important role in ensuring a complete count.
“Everyone can be an organizer from their home, right now, to help increase response rates — just by reaching out to our own connections,” Hernandez said. “Creating that tree of contacts of family, of friends, of coworkers, of everyone that we can possibly reach on our own, that would make a huge step.”
Residents who have not completed the census online or by phone should have received a paper questionnaire from the Census Bureau by now, which can be filled out and mailed in. Residents can also still respond online at my2020census.gov or via phone in English (844)-330-2020 or Spanish (844)-468-2020 and 12 other language options.
A completed census is money in the bank for NELA. Be counted! Hágase contar!