Census 2020 on its way to San Diego County

(l to r, standing) SDSU president Adela de La Torre, Census Bureau partnership specialist John Clement-Carrasco, Census Bureau deputy director Ron Jarmin and Census Bureau San Diego/Orange County partnership coordinator Xuan-Nhi Ho/Census Bureau

Census 2020 has gotten off to a Trump Administration start, which is to say already under scrutiny for lack of competency, missed deadlines and multiple causes for concern.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) last week said “readiness for upcoming operations is mixed” for the 2020 Census. GAO is the authoritative agency providing Congress, the heads of executive agencies, and the public with timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Census was “behind on some of its goals—like recruiting enough workers—and needs to address concerns with its internet response system. In addition, IT and cybersecurity challenges remain,” GAO said. “The 2020 Census is on our High Risk list. We’ve made 112 recommendations about the 2020 Census over the past decade. As of February 2020, 28 of them had not been fully implemented.”

Alrighty then, for a summary of highlights emanating from the full GAO report on the Census issued last week, visit this link.

Census workers began enumerating last month in remote communities in Alaska. San Diego County initially was supposed to begin counting in mid-march, but here, there and everywhere, it appears Census workers won’t hit th streets until early April at the soonest.

San Diego and Imperial counties considered among the most challenging in the state to accurately count in the upcoming census. Consequences of undercounting the region’s population can be daunting.

Data is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives and how many billions of federal dollars states get to fund such priorities as public schools, free and reduced-price lunches, community health centers, childcare programs and roads and highway projects.

For the 2020 census, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature committed more than $187 million, more than any other state, according to The San Diego Union Tribune.

Michele Silverthorn, of United Way San Diego County and project lead on Count Me 2020, said the larger state investment this time allowed organizations to come together earlier in the process, to sort out how to best serve a wider variety of communities in San Diego.

“There’s a lot of planning on a completely different level,” Silverthorn said.

Overall it’s estimated that 72 percent of all Californians, or 29 million, belong to one or more of the historically undercounted groups, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

San Diego County specifically also possesses large populations from undercounted groups: an estimated 47 percent of its occupied housing units are filled by renters, 33 percent of its population is Latino and 6.5 percent is under 5-years-old, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

During the 2000 census the response rate for the San Diego region was 78 percent, according to SANDAG, and it dropped to 72 percent during the 2010 census.

Complicating matters, this year will be the first census largely conducted online.

An estimated 17.4 percent of the state’s population, and 13.1 percent of San Diego County’s population, lacks broadband internet access, according to the Census Bureau.

What follows are some frequently asked questions about the 2020 Census…

What is the 2020 Census?

The 2020 Census is the decennial count of every resident living in the country, conducted by the United States Census Bureau and mandated by the Constitution. New Jersey’s census count is organized by the New Jersey Department of State.

What will happen?

In March, you’ll receive a census postcard in the mail, asking you and the members of your household to complete the census online. It will have a link to the online census survey.

Certain households will also receive the paper form to use if they would prefer. You can also respond to the census by phone, which is available in 12 different languages.

Mailings will be sent to homes and non-respondents in the weeks leading up to the census. Follow-ups will be conducted by census workers in early April. Paper questionnaires and letters will also be sent to those who have not yet responded.

If you don’t respond to one of these three methods, a census worker will come to your residence to collect your information, which will start around mid-May, according to the Department of State.

What’s new?

The census is online this year. In previous years, filling the census out online wasn’t an option. The U.S. Census Bureau is making the switch to make the process more efficient and cost-effective. It’s also to give people another opportunity to respond, said Jeff T. Behler, the New York Regional Director for the bureau.

Residents aren’t required to fill out the census online—they can also provide their information over the phone or through a paper questionnaire. For areas with an older population or limited to no internet access, the U.S. Census Bureau will send them the same materials, along with a paper questionnaire in the first mailing.

As far as security issues with the census online, “there’s always concerns,” he said. “Cybersecurity is a concern that’s been raised by many of our partners.”

Behler said the bureau is working with industry experts both within the government and outside of it to ensure they’re safeguarding the data they’re collecting. He also said they’re working with those experts on aspects of the process they need to improve.

What will the census ask?

There are nine questions per person in your household on the census. Questions will include: the number of people living in the residence on April 1, 2020; if the residence is owned or rented; and the gender, age, race, ethnic group and relationship of all people living in the residence.

What will the census not ask?

Whether or not you’re a citizen. President Donald Trump tried to add a citizenship question to the census last year, but the move was blocked by the Supreme Court. Also, the census will never ask for your Social Security number, your bank or credit card information, or money.

Is my data safe and confidential?

Yes. Personal census data is private and protected, which is required by Title 13. And data collected through the census can’t be used against any person by any government agency, law enforcement organization, or court at any level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Anyone working for the Census Bureau will have a badge and be able to prove their identity.

People should be reassured the census is confidential, said James W. Hughes, dean emeritus of Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

“They don’t have to worry about people getting their info or using it nefariously,” he said. “The Census Bureau has always been a very above board organization.”

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