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Outspending Every Other State On The Census, California Starts Its Own Count Too

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This year, some homes in California may be asked to participate in two head counts. To check the accuracy of the 2020 census, the state is sending out its own workers to survey certain neighborhoods.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A $187 million effort is underway in California to get nearly 40 million residents to participate in the 2020 census in San Diego. A new call center opened in city Heights to help refugee and immigrant populations complete the census. But state officials are so concerned the U S census will undercount residents, they're starting to conduct a many state census. Joining us is Robert Bozak, senior demographer with the Rand corporation, which is helping conduct the state's mini census count. Robert, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:31 All right, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:33 Hey, so why is there a need for this separate smaller States census?

Speaker 2: 00:38 A lot is riding on the 2020 census. Uh, the state estimates that we could be losing in the tens of billions of dollars over the next decade in terms of federal funds to the state. Uh, for every person that's counted in the state, uh, the state gets a specific, uh, proportion of federal funds. And so any under count, even if it's minor, could have serious implications for the functioning of the state, uh, on top of which congressional representation is, uh, developed based upon the decennial count. And so there's a lot riding on this census for the state.

Speaker 1: 01:25 Mm. And how is the States, many senses going to work.

Speaker 2: 01:28 So we are going to be conducting the States many census in two parts. The first part is going to be what we refer to as an address campus. So we have selected 174 neighborhoods throughout the state of California. And our goal in the address sense in, excuse me, in the address canvas, is to count the number of housing units. One of the key ways in which States are often under counted is there, the census Bureau is not able to accurately identify all housing units in a neighborhood. So for example, you will often have apartments or housing structures that multiple families are sharing. And if that is the case, we need to be able to determine the number of families that are living there so that they receive the accurate number of census forms. And so one of the things we're really focusing on in the address canvas is to make sure that we are picking up these multifamily dwellings and these unlicensed and unpermitted dwellings to make sure that we first have an accurate count of all of the housing units starting in may. We begin the second phase of the study and that's when we going to return to those 174 blocks and go all of the housing units that we were able to determine in the address campus. It is at that stage starting in may, uh, and it will last throughout the summer and potentially into the early fall that we are going to be administering a survey to all of the housing units on those 174 blocks.

Speaker 1: 03:19 And can you tell us which neighborhoods in San Diego County or part of the state census?

Speaker 2: 03:24 Right. So we can't reveal exactly which neighborhoods we are going to be in for confidentiality purposes of the study. But I can't tell you that we are planning on visiting approximately 13 neighborhoods in San Diego County and another six neighborhoods in orange County.

Speaker 1: 03:43 Does this present some complications though because residents who may already be suspicious about participating in the us census may now be getting multiple knocks on their doors for both us census workers and state workers?

Speaker 2: 03:56 Absolutely. In fact, that is one of our primary concerns that we paid a lot of attention to as part of the design of this study. Um, one of the key things that we are doing is we are going to be working in close coordination with the California complete count committee. This is the committee that has been tasked by the state to do extensive outreach in communities, particularly in those communities that have been identified based on past federal censuses as being hard to count communities. We're going to be in close coordination with them and so they're going to be directly communicating, uh, the goals of our study, um, specifically why individuals should participate in the study in addition to the census.

Speaker 1: 04:47 And so once the state census and the U S census results are complete, is the idea to compare the two

Speaker 2: 04:53 a hundred percent. You know, the state wants a have an independent count of the 174 blocks. So we're going to do a block by block comparison and we're going to directly compare our results with, with the census Bureau fines. And I should note that in the history of the census, no state has ever attempted to do its own independent verification of the census count. And so this is a first of its kind endeavor.

Speaker 1: 05:26 Hmm. So could California then be setting itself up to challenge the U S census results?

Speaker 2: 05:31 I don't think that that is the intent of the state. I definitely think that's a bridge that the state will cross when, when, when we'd get there together. But I think just from the outset of this study, the pure intent is to try to get a sense of if there is an undercount, how severe is it and in what parts of the state is the undercount. Um, should note that while the, the federal government disperses funds to States based upon those population counts, the States in turn have to distribute funds to communities and to counties across the state. And so I think the primary way that the state is intending to use this information is if there is an under count. Is there a way that we can potentially recalibrate some of the state's internal numbers to make sure that communities are getting the resources that they need?

Speaker 2: 06:28 You know, so for example, if the federal census Bureau under counts the number of children in San Diego, the state might potentially under allocate resources for childcare or for education because they don't have a sense of exactly how many individuals will be in need of those services. And so the primary goal is to assess the undercount, but more specifically to use that information to make sure that the state is functioning smartly. Over the next decade, I've been speaking with Robert Bozak, senior demographer with the Rand corporation. Robert, thank you so much for joining us via Skype. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 3: 07:12 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.