Let’s imagine a scenario: A government official comes into Boyle Heights, a historically Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles, and makes a proposition to a group of residents. In exchange for answering a few basic questions about their lives, the government will guarantee them a pot of money to help pay for child care, education and prescription drugs.
Seems like a winning proposition, right?
It already has a name: the U.S. census. Every decade, the census aims to count every person in our country – no matter who they are, where they were born or how much money they make. This information is used to allocate federal funds for public services and also draw election districts.
Yet for the millions of Latinos in California, the right to be counted is in jeopardy – one of the biggest threats to the community’s demographic power with enormous ramifications that could last a decade.
That’s because the Census Bureau is an agency in peril, without a leader or enough funding, as it faces a monumental task to count an increased Latino population.
What’s more, Latinos have historically been undercounted due to their immigration status and housing instability. An estimated 400,000 Latino children were not counted in 2010, the most in Los Angeles of any county.
It’s not hard to see why an underfunded and poorly planned 2020 census threatens the Latino community’s position as the largest ethnic group in the state. An undercount could deny an additional seat in the U.S. House and could also reduce funding for heavily used programs. For instance, Latinos make up 54 percent of California’s K-12 students and the National School Lunch Program uses census data to distribute more than $1.4 billion to California.
Fixing the potential problems with the 2020 census, however, is not simple. While increased funding is one solution and raising awareness is another, the fears of submitting sensitive personal information to the federal government are not unwarranted in an age of increased immigration enforcement.
This is where elected officials, nonprofits and philanthropists can play a pivotal role in greater outreach, which is necessary not only to motivate and show Latinos how to participate, but also to explain why the census is important.
Latinos in California are nearly 25 years removed from fighting the battles of Proposition 187, the state ballot measure that sought to deny social services to undocumented immigrants in the state.
While we continue to fight similar battles for a quality education and affordable health care, we must see our participation in the 2020 census as the single most important thing we can do to increase our political, economic and demographic power in California.
Christian Arana is policy director at the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.