The census has been in the news a lot. You’ve probably heard reports on the “citizenship question” or “hard-to-count communities,” but perhaps you’re wondering is it really so important? Well, in fact, it impacts us all a great deal!

Experts at the Constitutional Accountability Center call the census “a cornerstone of our democracy” because “census data is used to apportion representatives in Congress; determine how many votes each state will have in the Electoral College; draw state, local, and congressional districts; and allocate billions of dollars of federal funds to local communities.” For these reasons, JCRC has made taking part in census-related activities a huge priority of our Democracy Initiative.

As part of this initiative, through which JCRC is working alongside allies in other communities to safeguard democratic norms and institutions through community education, mobilization and advocacy, our staff is currently active in county Complete Count Committees. We are assisting outreach into hard-to-reach communities, such as the elderly or infirm, around the Bay Area. Below is an update on what has been happening with the census and how the JCRC Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) team is actively involved.

What has been happening with the census?

Efforts to include a controversial citizenship question has drawn massive attention to the 2020 census recently. Due to significant legal challenges, this question will not be included, but there are still many concerns. These concerns typically involve “hard-to-count” communities, which represent people less likely or able to participate in the census and who are therefore difficult to include — for example, immigrants, seniors and low-income individuals/families. However, immigrant communities in particular remain deeply concerned due to anti-immigrant rhetoric and increased efforts around deportation.

Another issue is that this is the first year the census will be completed online, which creates technical and privacy concerns. The census being online also impacts low-income and rural communities without consistent internet access, as well as seniors who may be less comfortable using the internet. Additionally, the 2020 census is still significantly underfunded by many estimates, which will impact staffing, question testing, advertising and more.

The stakes of the 2020 census are particularly high for California, in part because of the large number of hard-to-count communities. JCRC will be helping outreach to these communities. In addition to the aforementioned, in California such communities include:

  • Young children
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Non-English speakers
  • Persons experiencing homelessness
  • Persons with mental or physical disabilities
  • Veterans
  • Renters / Highly mobile persons
  • Farm and migrant workers
  • American Indians

Helping with the Count

In the East Bay, JCRC is collaborating with Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) and Allen Temple Baptist Church on efforts to reach hard-to-count residents of Alameda County. Through interfaith partnership, the three organizations are working together to develop a plan of action. JCRC is also engaging in interfaith census efforts in San Francisco and on the Peninsula as well, and serving on San Mateo County’s Complete Count Committee.

The primary objectives of these partnerships are education and creating awareness on the importance of a complete count of residents. In Alameda County the hard-to-count populations we are focused on are immigrants, refugees, minorities and seniors, particularly those living in tracts with historically low census participation.

As part of one particular East Bay partnership we have applied for two funding grants. The next step is for this partnership to hire the needed staff to manage and complete the work. Through scheduled educational workshops and census survey assistance, the project staff will help residents within safe spaces fill in census surveys online or by paper form, using interpreters when requested. The partnership’s goal is to exceed the 68 percent population count from the 2010 census. In 2010, the national average was 72 percent mailed-in census surveys and the California average was 71 percent, ranking 29th in the nation.

Why does all of this matter?

The census is a critical national count which is used to determine almost every aspect of public life and infrastructure in our communities. Every decade we are constitutionally mandated to conduct a full count of people living in the United States. The census is not just a national headcount — it is the most relied upon data set for government at all levels as well as research institutions and businesses. The census is used to the provision of healthcare, education, employment, transportation, and more, by government. And it can be used by researchers to understand population and demographic trends and by businesses to help plan location expansion and other decisions. For example, an increase in the age 0-5 population could inform the California Department of Education or a local municipality on building more schools and could lead local businesses to build more family oriented establishments.

Population data collected in the census is also used to determine federal, state, county, and other local elected representative districts in an area. In California, an undercount could lead to the reduction of representation in the House of Representatives and challenges to accurate representation across communities in our big cities or in Sacramento.

California is leading the country in drawing political districts in a non-partisan manner. Community oriented districts created by Californians ensure fair and more representative districts. To learn more or get involved, you can apply online for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission. It is so important for community members to become and remain engaged on important democratic norms and foundations, such as the census.


“Our Constitution’s Founders established a democracy premised on the idea that all persons — no matter where they are from, regardless of whether they can vote — deserve equal representation in our government,” the Constitutional Accountability Center reminds us. “To ensure a proper count of the nation’s population and apportion representatives, the Constitution explicitly requires an ‘actual Enumeration’ of the people.” To learn more, visit the U.S. Census Bureau.

Find out more about JCRC’s work on democracy, check out our Democracy Initiative and Democracy of the United States consensus statement online.

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