Despite COVID-19 and the early halt to the census count, Central Coast counties made significant progress in the goal to exceed their 2010 results.
With traditional in-person events restricted this year, census workers had to get a little more creative. That meant more use of social media posts and public service announcements.
In Santa Cruz County, signs urging people to fill out their census line the San Lorenzo River bridges, and in Monterey County, census workers wearing masks and gloves have been going to grocery stores, coffee shops and food distribution sites.
Census workers have held virtual town halls and promoted their efforts in English and Spanish on local television channels. They even partnered with local businesses to offer incentives such as free ice cream or coffee for those who fill out their forms.
“It’s been super challenging,” said Paulina Moreno, project director for the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County. “Everything going on has sort of distracted and overshadowed the census work this year.”
Completing the census count accurately is difficult in any year, with representatives of many populations sometimes overlooked, undercounted or categorized incorrectly. Add to that a global pandemic and a spate of wildfires across the state, and local census workers had their work cut out for them.
There’s also a lot of fear about revealing immigration status, one of the questions asked on the Census form. And those who are undocumented are especially worried about providing information they fear could get them deported. While the U.S. Census Bureau isn’t allowed to share individual responses with anyone, be it immigration enforcement or other government entities, that doesn’t mean residents aren’t skeptical and worried about how that data will be used, said Moreno in Santa Cruz.
That’s been a major problem in Monterey County as well, according to analyst Rosemary Soto, who’s heading up that county’s census efforts. She said the many mixed messages about data and deadlines coming from the federal government haven’t inspired confidence.
“For those who already felt fearful or mistrustful, this has just exacerbated things,” she said.
Fueling those concerns have been the Trump Administration’s efforts to stop the count prior to the scheduled Oct. 31 deadline. Administration attorneys said the early stop was needed to ensure that population totals could be delivered to the President by a Dec. 31 legal deadline. The early end to the count was opposed by those who argued it would prevent an accurate count, especially in urban areas that tend to favor Democrats.
In a lawsuit brought by local governments and civil rights groups, Judge Lucy H. Koh of the US District Court in San Jose, ruled that census efforts could continue through the end of October due to pandemic-driven delays. And subsequently, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, denied a Trump Administration request to stay Judge Koh’s order. But this week, the U.S. Supreme Court suspended that order and the count, meaning that the census count would end on Friday, Oct. 16, two weeks earlier than census workers had planned on.
Monterey County had a severe undercount at 64.4% in the 2010 census and despite the challenges of Covid, the county was on track to surpass that this year.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve come – we’re at 65% counted,” said Soto earlier this month. “And eight out of 12 incorporated cities in Monterey County have surpassed 2010 census rates. We really want to be sure we’ve counted (as many people as we can) – we focus especially on the communities who are hardest to reach.”
But with the early end to the count, the county won’t reach the goal it set for itself.
“It’s been particularly challenging with the different court decisions,” said Moreno. “We’re not where we’d like to be – we were aiming for 75% (of the population counted) and we’ve only reached about 70.9%.”