Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

San Diegans Counted

 January 6, 2021 at 10:34 AM PST

Tom Wong (00:03): I've always been fascinated by how we categorize and subsequently describe and understand people. Andrew Bracken (00:14): That's Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at the university of California, San Diego and director of the U S immigration policy center. So when we think about an increasingly diverse America, we need a vocabulary to try to categorize and subsequently understand, uh, how America is changing. And often we do that through the census. We add to the long list of 2020 events. One that is not at all in consequential is that 2020 is a census year since the year 1790. Our country counts its residents every 10 years to apportion congressional seats, as well as funding. The financial and political implications are immense for localities as it is for our region here in San Diego. Andrew Bracken (01:09): Welcome to San Diego conversations, collaboration between KPBS and the national conflict resolution center covering important issues affecting the San Diego region. I'm Andrew Bracken, 2020 will be a year that we clearly will never forget. It's been filled with, well, just too much, just like everyone else. KPBS has had to change the way it's done some things in 2020. One example of that is that it's had to move its event series called community conversations from being in-person and taking them virtual. We wanted to share some of the conversations we've had over the past several months, as well as to give updates on them. Our first episode is on the crucial role of the census and a pandemic age we'll get started right after the break, the original event on the crucial role of the census and a pandemic age was hosted by former KPBS producer, Pat Finn, and took place in April of 2020. Jeffrey Enos (02:19): We're talking about the census being done once in a decade. Once every 10 years, we're talking about trillions of dollars of federal funding distributed to communities across the decade. That makes it extremely important to, to assure that communities across the country receive the funding that they need and they deserve Andrew Bracken (02:38): That's Jeffrey Enos deputy regional census manager for the U S census. He started things out by explaining some census basics. Jeffrey Enos (02:47): As far as what's, what's asked on the census, it's 10 questions takes less than 10 minutes. Uh, we ask how many people live in the household, uh, names, ages, uh, Hispanic origin, how people are related within the household and if they own or rent the home. And that's pretty much it. We don't ask citizenship status. We do not ask immigration status. The 2020 census. We do not ask any questions about income. It's really simple. The constitutionally mandated purpose of the sentence is to provide aportionment for the house of representatives. There's a lot of other reasons why census the census is important. One of them being the resources and funds that are distributed to communities across the country, uh, for example, hundreds of billions of dollars of, uh, federal funding is distributed to communities across the country. Based on the census count Andrew Bracken (03:43): During a normal year, getting people to take part in the census as a challenge. But 2020 is definitely not a normal year. The census officially started in March 11th, 2020, just days before the entire nation was shut down for several weeks. Due to the pandemic, people were then still able to self respond to the census by filling out the form they got in the mail or by phone or new to 2020 via the internet. But the pandemic did cause delays to census workers going out into the fields to count those who had not self responded. Another key concern, especially in areas like San Diego is making sure all residents feel safe to fill out the census regardless of their immigration status. Jeffrey Enos (04:22): We do not share our data with ice. It's, it's against the law for us to share with ice. We don't share with any government agency. And, uh, that's why it's so important that we, we work really closely with our partners in the hard to count populations, especially with the immigrant populations, to get the word out that that, that they need to respond to the census and it's safe to do so. Andrew Bracken (04:45): Griselda Ramirez works for mid city, can a nonprofit working in the highly immigrant city Heights neighborhood of San Diego. She represents just one of many local nonprofits who worked hard to encourage people to fill out the census and help spread the word on why it's so vital for communities like city Heights, Griselda Ramirez (05:02): Communities need resources. We need funding. And then also, because city Heights potentially can have an undercount of 83,000 folks because they're considered hard to count. So then we can lose representation and representation matters to our communities. And that's what we have been telling them. And especially now in this time of the pandemic, it's even more important for those resources to come into our communities. We advise our community that the responses to the census are protected by law and cannot be shared with or used by any other government agencies answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes to determine eligibility for government benefits or immigration enforcements. So that's something that we, we make sure that we let people know well, we're definitely encouraging our community to, to complete the census, um, before the deadline, either by, by mail phone, the internet. Um, so, so that we don't have, they don't have an enumerator come to their door just because of the whole rhetoric of, you know, the fear behind it. So by letting them know that it's important to complete the census by mail, by phone, um, or, or online as soon as possible. And that way they can avoid folks coming to their doors. Andrew Bracken (06:18): When talking about the census, it can be easy to get lost in its terminology. You hear words thrown around like numeration and apportionment and you can lose sight of what it all really means. But for Tom Wong, who you heard at the start of the episode, why the census is important is tied to his own personal story. Tom Wong (06:37): I grew up undocumented. I came to the U S when I was two years old, I grew up in Riverside. So right up the freeway from San Diego, I grew up thinking that I was just like any other kid and had dreams, just like any other kid about what my future would be when I was 16. My parents told me I was undocumented. I had no idea what that meant at the time, except that those dreams that I had envisioned for myself are no longer possible. I spent, uh, several years, um, you know, the, the latter years of high school, not having any clear sort of vision of what my next steps were going to be. And that's a very difficult kind of, you know, point in time for any young person, because you know, 16, 17, you know, friends are starting to think about college, starting to apply to college, getting first jobs, getting driver's licenses. And throughout that entire process, I knew that I could not do those things and not being able to do those things made me feel very much invisible. And so that feeling of invisibility, of being present, but not being seen is something that has been a chip on my shoulder throughout my career. Tom Wong (08:12): It's a motivating memory. Tom Wong (08:24): This is an incredibly important conversation. We're talking about billions of dollars that go to States and localities. We're also talking about political power. So when we think about the census, we're talking about all persons presently residing in the United States being counted, and all persons includes individuals who are non citizens, undocumented, et cetera. And so when we think about the sort of money aspect of counting, we can kind of put that aside and Tom Wong (08:56): Think about, well, if there's an undercount, then maybe certain States, certain localities will receive less federal funding, but there's another aspect to the census, which is the apportionment of also political power. And so when we think about portions of political power, we're thinking about using the census count to actually figure out how to draw maps for 435 house districts across the country. And so if there's an undercount in places where there are large populations of non-citizens, then places like California, New York, Illinois, those immigrant destination States could potentially not just lose money and resources, but can also lose political power, moves that voice, uh, in Congress through a house representative. And so when we are thinking about the question of undocumented immigrants participating or not, and more generally non citizens participating or not, this is, uh, one of the sort of longer fights, uh, that the Trump administration has fought in its broader immigration agenda. Tom Wong (10:03): And so there was a fight that was fought over the course of, uh, more than a year that led to the Supreme court saying no citizenship question, but there are many who believe that the damage was already done. The seed that was planted, that the census could potentially be used to identify undocumented immigrants, that seed was planted. And so even though that there is no citizenship question right now, people still are concerned, not just undocumented immigrants, but also individuals and mixed immigration status families, San Diego County, we have an estimated 211,000 undocumented immigrants. And if, for example, we get half not participating in the census estimates vary because it's hard to pin these numbers down, but we could potentially lose between a thousand dollars per person to $2,000 per person for an undercount of the undocumented population. So if we're talking about roughly 200,000, we have that for non-participation and we say a thousand dollars to $2,000. Then we were talking about potentially sending you a County losing a hundred billion to $200 billion. Andrew Bracken (11:25): So where are we now with the census and how is San Diego doing tackle these questions? And more after the break, after delaying it scheduled due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the census completed its count in October of 2020, that all the data been processed yet, Andrew Bracken (11:54): But some has particularly with the self response rate. Here's Patricia Ramos from the Los Angeles regional office from the us census Bureau to tell us more Patricia Ramos (12:03): The city of San Diego and all the major cities in San Diego County, all of them with the exception of one experienced highs in their self response rate. And they also collated anywhere from like 63.5% and Coronado, that was still up from 2010, all the way up to Poway, which had an 83.9% self response, 83.9 in comparison to 77.1 in 2010 Poway was ranked the 16th city with the largest self response out of 482 cities in the state of California. So hats off to Poway and who, and the residents of Poway for responding, Andrew Bracken (13:06): Having Poway so high on the list is a great sign for the San Diego region. But what about a community with a much more diverse and immigrant population like city Heights? How do they do Griselda Ramirez (13:17): People We're not worried about getting counted. They were worried about making ends meets. They were worried about, um, making sure that, that they could pay their rent or, you know, they've been, they lost their job, what was going to happen next, right? So that was the main worry. And, um, with which may made it a little hard at the beginning, well, city Heights, the way that I describe it, I describe it as the melting pot. Um, I think that city Heights, there's over 80, um, dialects and languages spoken there. It's a beautiful community, very diverse, heavily immigrant and refugee community. I mean, I love city Heights because I see how the community, um, they love one another, right? I think it's a very colorful, loving community will change since then was, um, the way that we were contacting folks to make sure that they were counted. Griselda Ramirez (14:09): Um, we were no longer knocking on doors. We were, you know, just heavily on the phones, um, doing text messaging, sending mail, dropping literature, and then, you know, fast forward to now, right before the, the count was over, we were making sure that we were calling the people that pledged to take the census or the people that said that they were unsure if they will complete it, just to make sure that, you know, they were counted. I mean, I feel that it turned out good. We did really good in San Diego County overall and, and city Heights, I think for all the tracks, except about two, we were at the level of 2010, or we exceeded the turnout and I'm just, you know, happy to know that we, we were at par with like 2010 or a little bit higher because it was really hard. It was hard to, to have those conversations. And I think that, and granted a year of, we were able to, um, have those conversations with folks we would have had higher and even higher accounts Andrew Bracken (15:07): Through all the chaos. The pandemic has rot, Griselda sees at least a hint of a silver lining when it comes to the census. Griselda Ramirez (15:14): You know, the fact that we're in a pandemic and like people actually could see the inequities that our communities had. And, um, by saying, you know, complete the census, um, by completing the census resources will come into our community during times like this, right. We were able to, like in real life, tell people, you know, this is what the census provides, more healthcare, more and more access to health care, more this and more that, um, you know, for schools, for, for materials like computers, they kind of, kind of got the picture of like why it was important. And especially in the middle of a pandemic, Andrew Bracken (16:01): The complete picture of how San Diego fared in the 2020 census is not yet totally clear, the numbers are still being crunched and won't be complete until the end of 2020 at the earliest, regardless of how 2020 turns out Tom Wong makes the case that the census much like the country had counts is ever changing and evolving Tom Wong (16:21): Advocacy around changing census categories has been a part of the census story. And that's why we have seen census categories evolve over time. So that we now have an ethnicity question about whether or not a person is Hispanic or Latin X. Now we have a multiracial category, and now we also have an expanded understanding of, uh, who might be Asian or Pacific Islander. And this work is not yet done because in the 2020 census, there was advocacy around having a question about LGBTQ status. The fascinating aspect to the census to me is that we have an opportunity via the census in the checkboxes that we create in the questions that we ask to essentially define and redefine what it means to be an American. And so from racially white to Latin next to, uh, multiracial individuals to, uh, expanded notions of who Asians and Pacific Islanders are. Tom Wong (17:42): And down the road, a LGBTQ question, a middle Eastern North Africa question for those of descent, this is the sort of tie that I see in terms of a evolving definitions of who we are in those census questions that we ask about race and ethnicity. And as these questions evolve, I think the goal is to better represent and subsequently see the diversity that is America to be counted as to be represented. And to me, that is analogous to, uh, being seen and being seen in the eyes of the federal government. If we don't adequately and accurately categorize and subsequently count people, then we are not seeing them. We are not seeing the diversity. That is America. Andrew Bracken (18:47): Thanks for joining us. San Diego conversations is a collaboration between KPBS and the national conflict resolution center to learn more, visit our website at Diego conversations program is produced by me, Andrew Bracken, along with help from Linda Ball and Trisha Richter of KPBS. The original event on the census was hosted by Pat Finn, also from KPBS, Emily Jankowski is technical director, Kinsee Moreland's podcast coordinator. Lisa Jane Morissette is operations manager. John Decker is director of programming. Thanks also to Ashley McGuire. We hope you'll join us for our next San Diego conversation.

Why the U.S. census is important and how the 2020 census has navigated a bumpy road, including kicking off during a pandemic. How did the census turn out, at least initially, for San Diego? This episode is an update of an earlier Community Conversation: “The Crucial Role of Census in a Pandemic Age.” Watch that conversation here: