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2020 Census: Counting the San Joaquin Valley

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The decennial census plays an essential role in American democracy. The stakes are huge for California, and 2020 is fast approaching. This series of blog posts takes a detailed look at California communities that may be at risk of being undercounted.

PPIC’s new interactive census maps are an important tool for Californians working to ensure an accurate census count. Using estimates from the Census Bureau and the Federal Communications Commission, they highlight hard-to-count communities across the state and pinpoint reasons why certain areas may be hard to reach.

Home to 4.3 million people, the San Joaquin Valley may be one of California’s hardest-to-count regions in 2020. Encompassing about 11% of the state’s population, the valley runs south from San Joaquin County through Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern Counties. Most of the communities at risk of being undercounted in the region live south of Stanislaus County through Kern County. For example, 33% of census tracts in Fresno County are likely to be very hard to count, according to Census Bureau estimates that draw on demographic characteristics and historical trends. But only 7% of tracts in Stanislaus are very hard to count. Households in these very hard-to-count areas are less likely to respond initially to census forms and are therefore at risk of being undercounted.

Some highlights:

  • An undercount could reshape the legislative landscape of the San Joaquin Valley. Since legislative district lines will be redrawn based on the census, disproportionately undercounting parts of the San Joaquin Valley could reshape the region’s political representation. And while hard-to-count communities are distributed across several counties in the region, they are concentrated in fewer legislative districts. In Congressional Districts 16 (Costa) and 21 (Valadao), for example, about 42% of census tracts are likely to be very hard to count. Undercounting could also affect the northern San Joaquin Valley, which has hard-to-reach areas despite having fewer historically undercounted populations.
  • Undercounting people of color and noncitizens could disproportionately affect legislative districts in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley. This area has particularly high shares of groups that tend to be undercounted in the census—African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, as well as noncitizens, who may be even less likely to respond in 2020 due to the planned addition of a citizenship question. A total of six legislative districts have populations that are at least 65% African American, Latino, or Native American and at least 15% noncitizen: Congressional Districts 16 and 21; State Senate Districts 12 (Cannella) and 14 (Vidak); and State Assembly Districts 31 (Arambula) and 32 (Salas).
  • Another factor driving the San Joaquin Valley’s overall risk of being undercounted is the high share of young children. Young children are historically underrepresented in the census. There are particularly high concentrations of families with young children in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley: children under 5 years old make up 8% or more of the population in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, and Tulare Counties—among the highest concentration in the state.
  • Housing conditions may make an accurate count especially challenging in the western San Joaquin Valley. In this area, relatively large shares of housing units are rentals, overcrowded rentals, and/or mobile homes—all of which can make residents harder to find and count accurately. For example, more than 20% of households live in mobile homes in some northwestern parts of San Joaquin County and some southwestern parts of Tulare County.
  • Limited internet access may be an issue in certain areas throughout the region. The Census Bureau plans to collect the majority of responses online in 2020—a change from previous practice. Each county in the San Joaquin Valley has some census tracts with minimal residential high-speed connectivity, with the lowest access outside cities. While people in these areas may have internet access through smartphones or public libraries, in general they may have more trouble accessing the census online.

We hope these maps serve as a starting point to help local, regional, and state leaders think about which activities, resources, and partnerships—including language assistance, awareness raising, and community outreach—might be most effective for accurately counting different parts of California. Stay tuned for future posts that examine hard-to-count communities in other regions of the state.

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