With music blasting and horns honking, some 20-25 cars decorated with colorful signs cruised slowly through the streets of Canoga Park the afternoon of July 31 with a single mission: getting people to participate in the US Census.
This was the latest Census Car Caravan, a strategy that’s been deployed in Pacoima, Long Beach, and South and East Los Angeles in recent weeks to remind people to fill out the form that every 10 years seeks to answer how many people live in the United States.
April 1 was the official day to begin the Census 2020 count, but the response rate so far is below that of 10 years ago. That worries officials, since the Census determines the allocation of funds for healthcare, education, housing and other social services, as well as political representation.
Good And Bad News
Through Tuesday, Aug. 4, LA county officials had determined a 59.3% participation in its census count, below the 64.2% statewide participation average. National participation average was 62.9%.
The current response rate is below the final rate of 68.2% for California in 2010, but officials still hope to reach and exceed that goal in the two months left to fill out the forms.
And California is not alone in wanting to increase its total. The California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office reports only four states have a current self-response rate above their 2010 margins: Washington, Nevada, Michigan and Kentucky.
The Golden State seems be on the right track. Nearly 10 million California households have already taken the Census, and of that total, two million are in the hardest-to-count category.
California also has the highest average self-response rate in Census tracts where the foreign-born represent a higher-than-median share of the tract’s population.
But not everything is good news.
Gerardo Guzman, Census project director for the San Fernando-based Pueblo y Salud — one of the organizations that is part of the “We Count LA Coalition” that promotes Census participation — said that Congressional District 29 (where Canoga Park is located) had a self-response rate of 69.3% in 2010, “so we are almost 13% behind there.”
Guzman said census workers are trying to overcome the response gap by requesting additional funding from the California Community Foundation to “establish a Mobile Questionnaire Assistance unit to provide hands-on support in high-density census tracts — particularly in Pacoima, Van Nuys, Panorama City, North Hills and similar hard-to-count areas where there are many census tracts with a response rate in the low- and mid-40 percentiles.”
Another method activists are using to overcome the lack of responses is through Census Car Caravans, which target the areas with the “lowest response rates.”
Last week they visited the area around Lanark Park. With megaphones in hand, Juana Torres said they encouraged people to take part in the Census. Before the caravan, they also sent flyers and did phone banking.
As they cruised through the area, “we were giving away information and trying to bring some attention to the Census,” said Torres, a One Generation Census coordinator.
The Car Caravans are an alternative way to reach residents amidst COVID-19.
“The pandemic changed all of our tactics and strategies. (In a normal year) we would be having a lot of outreach activities at fairs, community events and a lot of face time with people,” Torres said.
Most importantly, she said, workers would have been knocking on doors. “In a normal year, we would have been doing it since March,” Torres said, adding it has not occurred yet amid the pandemic.
But, according to Torres, workers will be knocking on doors through August and September, albeit in a “much more limited” amount and practicing social distancing guidelines.
“Some organizations have started already. We at One Generation, are about to start. It’s going to be significantly less because we’re starting the process so late,” Torres said.
It will also be limited because they might not have all the volunteers they would usually have. For instance, One Generation is a senior services organization and many of their volunteers are older, so “a lot of those folks are not able to go knocking on doors,” Torres said.
“The pandemic is definitely one of the reasons why our numbers are not as high (as 10 years ago),” Torres admitted.
Something else that may be preventing people from completing the Census is fear.
“There’s a lot of fear in the community because of the debacle on the citizenship question,” Torres said.
Last year, the Trump Administration tried unsuccessfully to include a citizenship question on the Census form. And just recently, the President signed a controversial memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census 2020 count.
The memorandum could exclude more than two million undocumented immigrants in California, according to the Pew Research Center. The state of California, and several other states as well as other cities, have filed lawsuits against the federal government over what they call a “racist decree” that is also unconstitutional.
Despite these efforts by the Trump administration, Torres emphasized that the information contained within the Census is completely safe.
“We can totally assure people that no personal information is going to be reported to any other agency,” she said. “It’s just data. We do not reveal names, addresses or anything else.
“What I tell people is, ‘do not be afraid,’” she said.
This year it is more important than ever to fill out the Census, Torres said. The health disparities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted African Americans and Latinos worse than whites, makes it imperative to better allocate resources to those more in need.
It is estimated that in the county, each person counted in the Census results in about $1,000 in federal funding.
“To help fight COVID-19, we not only need people to wear a face covering and maintain physical distancing — they should also make sure they are counted in the census,” county Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer recently noted.
“Not completing the census could deprive LA county of the very resources we need to fight the pandemic and other diseases that have life-or-death consequences in our community. It takes only 10 minutes to fill out the census, and you can do it right from home on your computer or phone,” Ferrer said.
Unfortunately, it’s the areas where those more in need frequently have lower Census response rates. That’s why officials like Torres are urging people to respond sooner rather than later.
The last day for households to respond by phone, mail or online is Sept. 30. Completing the census is private. Responses are protected by federal law and cannot be shared with any other government agencies or other entities, including your landlord.
Residents may fill out a Census form online at my2020census.gov, by phone in English (844) 330-2020 or in Spanish at (844) 468-2020, or by mail by sending back the questionnaire mailed out to household to: US Census Bureau, National Processing Center, 100 Logistics Ave., Jeffersonville, IN 47144.