In California: a Fight to Keep the Census Alive

Lance Roberts

9/30/2020- La Habra, California

Residents from La Habra lining up to receive free tacos from Kala Truck

Photo by Lance Roberts

On Wednesday, September 30, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to reject the Trump Administration’s appeal to end the Census Bureau's data-gathering by September 30.

This comes as another blow to the Trump administration’s battle to end Census data-gathering early, something which many have accused President Trump of trying to do in order to undercount people of color. In the ruling, the 9th Circuit Appellate Court described the Trump administration’s early deadline as “hasty and unexplained”, and determined that proceeding with the September 30 deadline “risks undermining the Bureau's mission.”

As a part of California’s battle to comprehensively count people-of-color, many cities have resorted to new methods of reaching out to local residents. The city of La Habra chose to appeal to local residents using something familiar: tacos.

La Habra is a city in the Southeast of the Los Angeles area. It’s population is majority Hispanic, 57.2% of the population is identified as such.

The Institute for Healthcare Advancement, in conjunction with the U.S. Census and the City of La Habra, invited Kala Truck to provide free tacos to all those who signed up for the Census on September 30. Local residents were invited to bring friends and family to the event next to Guadalupe Park. The two-hour event yielded positive results: nine families signed up for the Census.

Behind the festivities, however, were a group of city officials and local health organizers, nervous about the success of their efforts.

Eskarlethe Juarez, a health education associate with IHA, expressed dismay about the lack of awareness of the census, “Many people are not aware and not educated on what the Census is. This census tract in La Habra has one of the lowest census response rates. That‘s why we're focusing our efforts here, because we want to let the people know. We want to bring awareness and we want to bring it to them, so if it's hard for them to access a computer or fill it out themselves because of their reading abilities or writing abilities, then we're here to make it easy-access to them and to educate them that it's important.”

Many residents also appeared nervous about the Census’s attempt to gather data in the majority-Hispanic community. One resident described a culture of distrust and hopelessness towards the federal government, “Yesterday [during the debate] with Biden and Trump . . . a lot of people were really pissed off towards that. And I’m not sure if that encourages people to be afraid of everything directly or because of Covid”.

City of La Habra recreation manager David DeLeon is well aware of this, and is hoping that his efforts will change local attitudes towards the Census, “Everybody responds to ‘What’s in it for me?’. What they don’t realize is that your community and the investment in the community is based on money that we get from the federal government.”

The possibility of having an undercounted population brings dire consequences to states and local governments. The U.S. Census dictates how the Electoral College and the U.S. House is portioned. It also determines how much federal funding a state gets. In 2015, the most recent year with an available estimate, $77 billion dollars were received from census-related funding in California. To lose this funding could cause at-risk communities damage in public infrastructure, healthcare, and parks and recreation.

“Part of the problem is the confusion”, says David DeLeon, “when you’re moving around dates, when you’re threatening to not include a certain segment of the population, it’s terrible, terrible information that really confuses what the intent of the census is, which is providing support to be able to serve the communities across the country.”

Published on: 10/1/2020