The 2020 census begins in San Diego and Imperial Counties in mid-March 2020, and community-based organizations in the region have been working together for a year to ensure full participation in the once-a-decade population and housing count.
The census provides vital information about the nation’s growing population and infrastructure, which impacts the everyday lives of all persons living in the United States. Census data is used to allocate funding for communities, ensure public safety, and plan new schools and hospitals. People use census data to decide where to open businesses and offices, which create jobs. The 2020 census is the first census to rely heavily on digital response, but will still have phone, mail, and Wi-Fi-enabled kiosk options available before enumerators are sent door-to-door.
Some of the highest rates of “hard-to-count” (HTC) populations have been identified in our region; and the state of California has undertaken an unprecedented and historic effort to ensure a complete and accurate count. The effort in California is larger than all the states investing in the 2020 census combined and represents the largest mobilization of partners in the state’s history.
High rates of hard-to-count persons
Getting a full and accurate count in San Diego and Imperial Counties (Region 10) is vital for our vibrant, growing region — not only for us, but for future generations to come.
“If everyone in our region is counted, it could help bring more money to our region for transportation, housing, and community programs,” says Ray Major, SANDAG chief data and analytics officer and chief economist. “In addition, census data helps SANDAG analyze commute patterns and plan for improvements to our region’s transportation network.”
California is investing $187.2 million to outreach and educate the hardest-to-count populations on the 2020 census, funding the efforts of municipalities, nonprofits, and community-based organizations to ensure California’s communities have fair representation and funding as a result of 2020 census participation. This investment pales in comparison to the $115 billion that the state of California stands to gain through 55 federal spending programs, according to the GW Institute of Public Policy Counting for Dollars 2020 report.
When compared to the results of the 2010 census, San Diego County is the 21st hardest county to count, and Imperial County is identified as the most undercounted region in the entire state of California. According to data from the state of California, San Diego and Imperial Counties have more than 255,000 individuals who are considered extremely hard to count. However, data from the Advancement Project tells us this number could be even higher, with as many as 783,277 people at risk of not being counted in 2020 in San Diego and Imperial Counties.
The region was awarded more than $4.4 million by the state of California to fund their efforts to increase census participation in the 230 census tracts most at risk of undercount. An additional $400,000 was provided through San Diego Grantmakers. “Nonprofits and community members, funders, and government agencies have been talking about how to make sure that we reach our hardest-to-count neighbors for nearly the past two years,” says Megan Thomas, vice president of collaborations and initiatives, at San Diego Grantmakers. “For this once-in-a-decade opportunity to promote fair representation and secure the funds we need to support a thriving San Diego and Imperial region, we are doing our best work, together.”
Everyone to be counted
Community groups came together to start the non-partisan Count Me 2020 Coalition in early 2019. United Way of San Diego County is the Administrative Community Based Organization (ACBO) for Region 10 that oversees the collaborative work of the Count Me 2020 Coalition, which is a group of more than 150 civic and community-based organizations from San Diego and Imperial Counties. Member organizations are committed to ensuring a complete and accurate count of the 14 populations identified by the state of California as “hard-to-count.”
“Our region has some of the highest hard-to-count populations, which include various ethnic groups, immigrants, refugees, military veterans, the LGTBQ community, seniors, young children, individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and residents of traditionally disadvantaged neighborhoods,” says Michele Silverthorn, project lead, Count Me 2020 Coalition. “Members of the Count Me 2020 Coalition offer valuable lines of communication to encourage census participation within their respective constituencies and the community as a whole.”
The Count Me 2020 Coalition and its partners are the “on the ground” catalyst to motivate the community to participate. They are committed to lifting the key barriers to census participation, which the Advancement Project says include uncertainty about the purpose and use of census data, uncertainty about who should be included, fear or mistrust of the government, and limited English proficiency.
As part of this local effort, SANDAG will work with Count Me 2020 Coalition members to host “Be Counted” community events throughout the region to encourage everyone in San Diego to be counted.
Additionally, Coalition members host nearly 1,000 of their own events and activities, such as phone-banks, neighborhood walks, and other outreach to encourage census participation. The groups will provide language translation services and host Wi-Fi and phone-enabled Questionnaire Assistance Kiosks (QAKs) and Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs) to answer questions from the community and provide in-person, phone and online access to census survey response.
“Community partners have been working for over a year to inform and engage their communities. They are the most trusted messengers, and understand that it is essential that every person, regardless of their citizenship status, housing, race, economic condition, or age is counted,” says Alan Kaplan of Engage San Diego, the primary data manager for Region 10. “Since the campaign started, Count Me 2020 partners have held over 535 events to make over 475,000 impressions in target communities. This is an unprecedented level of outreach, possible only due to the deep and thoughtful investment from the state of California, and the incredible commitment from community partners.”
How to take the 2020 census
Starting in mid-March 2020, households will receive an invitation in the mail informing them of the options for filling out the census questionnaire. The invitation will contain a unique ID number to use when filling out the census. However, if you misplace your number, you can still take the census using your home address. Once the invitation arrives, you can respond for your home in one of four ways:
Online: Complete the questionnaire at the official website, my2020census.gov on your desktop computer or mobile device, or through Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Kiosks hosted by libraries, governments, and community groups at various locations around the region. A full list of locations will be posted to countme2020.org in the next few weeks. The online self-response form is provided in 12 languages plus English, and 59 other language assistance guides are provided online, including in Braille and large print.
Phone: Response can be made by phone. Depending on the language preferred (12 languages plus English), there is a toll-free number a resident can call. Call the Census Bureau Customer Service Center at 800-923-8282.
Paper questionnaire form: If requested, a paper form can be provided in Spanish and English, as part of the update/leave campaign and for those who do not receive mail at their physical address. See map here.
In-person: In-person home visits by official census enumerators will begin in April 2020 to visit college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. In May 2020, census enumerators will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 census by April 30, 2020, to help make sure everyone is counted.
If you are filling out the census for your residence, you should count everyone who is living there as of April 1, 2020. Be certain to count babies and children (all ages), close or extended family members, people who are not related to you, and people staying with you without a permanent place to live. Learn more about who to count and any special circumstances at bit.ly/2THmQOL.
On March 30 and April 1, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments. After this period, people experiencing homelessness can visit a community-run center to submit their information, call to respond over the phone, or complete it on their own personal smart device.
Regardless of the participation method, all community members regardless of status are encouraged to self-report and respond early. “Count Me 2020 Coalition members provide outreach education support and access to ensure completion of the census questionnaires, including assistance to individuals in their native language,” says Silverthorn. The U.S. Census Bureau will also support linguistically diverse populations language access, depending on the response format.
Information collected is confidential
The census is known for having one of the strongest guarantees of confidentiality in the federal government. “There are many measures in place to keep census information private,” says David Bennett, San Diego media specialist, U.S. Census Bureau. “It cannot be used for law enforcement purposes, immigration enforcement, or to determine personal eligibility for benefits. Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the answers collected are used only to produce statistics and are kept anonymous for 72 years. Security breaches can result in jail time and $250,000 fine if information is shared.”
For a list of important 2020 census dates, visit censusoutreach.org. In the near future, the Count Me 2020 website will have locations of the Questionnaire Assistance Kiosks and community-run assistance centers, as well as a full list of census-related events and volunteer opportunities in various neighborhoods.
In San Diego and Imperial Counties, the majority of 2020 census efforts are coordinated through the Count Me 2020 Coalition, led by the United Way of San Diego County, with support from SANDAG and the County of Imperial. For additional information on the 2020 census in our region, please visit countme2020.org, californiacensus.org or 2020census.gov.