Yolo ‘Hard To Count’ populations Yolo require special effort

Undercount impacts federal funding

Jenny Tan started a new job in Jan. 2019 as Yolo County’s Communications Coordinator and was immediately assigned to begin a massive project: making sure as many Yolo County residents as possible participate in the 2020 census.

“We really should have started working on the census three years ago,” Tan said.

The group Tan assembled last year would come to be known as the Yolo County Complete Count Committee. Work on the committee has been amping up as April 1, Census Day, rapidly approaches.

The committee’s goal is to increase the number of households that participate in the census. Only 77 percent of Yolo County households were estimated to have completed the 2010 census. The data collected from the census determines, among other things, how much federal funding goes to each state, county, and city.

Since Yolo County was undercounted by approximately 23 percent, the county received less federal funds than is proportionate to its actual population.

“Imagine what that additional funding could have provided for all of our communities if everyone took the census,” Tan said.

Davis city planner Ike Njoku, a member of the Yolo County Complete Count Committee, can think of one way that extra funding could be utilized.

“There’s a lot of potholes not getting fixed,” Njoku said.

This is the fourth census that Njoku has worked on. Since 1990, he’s seen a lot of changes in how the census is taken, but this year, the amount of funding available for census outreach stands out to him as a large improvement.

The state of California has invested more than $150 million with the goal of getting everyone counted in 2020. Yolo County received $120,000 of that fund in Dec. 2018 to conduct its own outreach efforts, most of which is centered around getting hard-to-count populations to increase their census participation.

“These are people who have been historically undercounted. They’ve been socially, politically marginalized in some way,” Tan said.

The hard-to-count groups in Yolo County include immigrant communities, UC Davis students and the homeless.

Immigrant Communities

Non-citizens, especially those of Latino descent, have always been hard to count. Many of them hold mistrust for the idea of government officials asking for their information for fear of deportation. Others are just unaware that non-citizens are supposed to participate in the census.

“For some immigrants who come from countries where the government is already corrupt […] coming here, it doesn’t help ease that anxiety,” Tan said.

Additionally, the Trump administration spent a lot of time and energy trying to get a question added to the 2020 census last year which would have asked whether census participants were citizens. Though the question was not added this year, the media attention around the attempted policy convinced a lot of undocumented immigrants to avoid the census altogether.“I think it’s harmed our ability to get an accurate count a lot,” Tan said.

In reality, the census asks only nine questions.

“Honestly, Facebook, Google, [and] your phone have more information about you than you’re going to give the Census Bureau,” Tan said. “If you’re an immigrant and your kids go to school, well, guess what? Your kids are being positively impacted [by an accurate census count],”

UC Davis Students

According to current U.S. Census Bureau data, 38.8 percent of UC Davis households are predicted to not self-respond to the census. That’s the highest percentage compared to any other area in Davis.

The explanation is quite simple: most students are generally confused if they should be counted in the Davis census.

“They don’t know that they’re supposed to be counted here in Davis,” Tan said.

Many students think they’re parents will count them in their hometown, but everyone is supposed to just be counted wherever they happen to be residing when it’s time to take the census. Even UCD exchange students need to fill out the census.

Anybody living in Davis is using the public resources that the government provides, therefore, everyone needs to be included in the census count to make sure the correct amount of money is going to support those public services.

To increase the UC Davis census participation, a lot of work is going into educating students about how to take the census and why. Posters will be hung up on campus translated into English, Spanish, Russian and Chinese.

The Homeless

According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, over half a billion dollars of federal funding for health center programs, which includes homeless services and housing, is dependent on census data.

The homeless population is hard-to-count in any area because of the very nature of their existence. They have no homes where census invitations can be mailed and often no internet access to fill out the census online.

The homeless have a special census count that occurs from Mar. 30 to Apr. 1, which includes street counts and visits to homeless service providers in an effort to get as many as possible counted, a goal that is becoming increasingly difficult. “We have more homeless folks than we had in the past,” Njoku said.

Indeed, since 2017, there’s been a 43 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals in Yolo County. If a higher percentage of the Yolo County population is counted this year, more federal funds could be available to help deal with the growing homeless population.

“I think just knowing that getting an accurate count is really going to help your community. (Its) a really big pull for me,” Tan said.