The 2010 Census motto, “It’s in our hands,” may take on new meaning if California and four other states, including Texas and Arizona, still have low census participation rates after upcoming final counting efforts.
The census results determine – amongst other things – the number of congressional seats allotted to each state. With a lower than average percentage of returned census forms, California risks losing a seat in the House of Representatives.
As of mid-April, nationwide participation was at 72 percent, matching the national rate in 2000. In California, participation is behind the national average at around 70 percent. Census media specialist for the Los Angeles region Robert Borboa said these numbers are premature and will change in the coming months.
California and all states are now taking part in a door-to-door counting campaign in an effort to include no-response households. Borboa called these communities “hard-to-count” areas. Preemptively, outreach efforts helped the bureau count these communities, which usually comprise of minority groups.
“[The census] began establishing relationships with cities, city governments and trusted voices in the community, including non-profit organizations,” Borboa said. “[We talked about] the census in schools, faith-based organizations and with social services.”
Hard-to-count regions had lower mailed-back rates, but with the door-to-door campaign Borboa said California response should increase.
Senior director of Civic Engagement for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials educational fund Jose Cruz said it is presumptuous to credit the Latino community and other minority groups with low participation in California or elsewhere.
Throughout the five states with low participation, however, there is historically a connection to low Latino return rates. California’s Latino population has grown since the 2000 Census yet this growth may not be represented in 2010 demographics. Many factors contribute to the lower census response in these harder to count areas.
“There is less trust of the government and [families] do not want to report how many people are living in a household,” Cruz said. “For the Latino community there are immigration issues.”
These factors are not new.
Before the April 1 Census commencement, outreach efforts were focused on traditionally reluctant respondents.
“We’ve been running a campaign of empowerment for a long time,” he said. “Also, the Spanish media has encouraged participation.”
An April Pew Hispanic Center research study found that 70 percent of Hispanics said the census was positive for the Hispanic community, showing an increase of acceptance and understanding of the nationwide count.
“People were very worried about this being the worse census ever due to the economic climate,” Cruz said. “But to the bureau’s credit, they did a really good job.”
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.