For California’s sake, the 2020 Census needs to be rescued

Some advocacy groups are concerned about the status of the 2020 Census.
Some advocacy groups are concerned about the status of the 2020 Census. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ron Jarmin, interim director of the Census Bureau, is pledging to conduct “the most robust outreach and marketing effort ever” for the 2020 Census, especially to children and vulnerable populations.

But what he didn’t say is that the 2020 Census is underfunded and far behind schedule. A herculean effort is now required by a multitude of interests to secure an accurate count.

There is too much at stake in California to allow an undercount. Political representation and federal funding top the list. A Public Policy Institute of California report in September found that more than half of the state’s federal funding that is determined by population goes to Medi-Cal, which provides life-saving health services for low-income families. The census also determines federal dollars for affordable housing, transportation, public schools and other priorities.


Children’s well-being is particularly at risk in an undercount. A June report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation warned that one out of four children under age five living in hard-to-count neighborhoods is likely to go uncounted. In the 2010 Census, a study found that nearly one million children under four were missed, including 400,000 Latino children, 113,000 of them in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have taken steps to secure an accurate count, allocating $100 million over three years and creating a committee to direct outreach efforts. It is a wise investment; an undercount of 1.5 million equates to the loss of $1.5 billion a year. Leaders across California want to ensure that this money is fairly distributed in areas with the hardest to count populations.

But a complete count will be especially difficult given the administration’s untested and un-American decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. With an underfunded and untested new online census, housing instability and families displaced by recent wildfires, an undercount is all but guaranteed without coordinated action.

This is not about partisan politics. California’s future depends on an accurate 2020 Census count. An undercount will affect every single person in this state for the next ten years. This is why the Latino Community Foundation, the NALEO Educational Fund, The California Endowment and the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce stand shoulder to shoulder to support a complete count.

Jacqueline Martinez Garcel is CEO of the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco. She can be contacted at Arturo Vargas is CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund based in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at Maricela Rodriguez is senior communications program manager of The California Endowment. She can be contacted at


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