skip to Main Content
Just the FACTS

Californians and the 2020 Census

    • The 2020 Census will provide a comprehensive snapshot of California.
      Every 10 years, as required by the Constitution, the US government undertakes a systematic effort to count the population—culminating in a portrait of the nation, states, and communities unrivaled in its scope. With a $12.5 billion budget, the Census Bureau will aim to gather a few key facts about all residents—address, age, race/ethnicity, home ownership, and household members—as of April 1, 2020. For the first time, the agency will try to collect most responses (55%) online, with the remainder collected by mail or, as needed, in person.
    • The results of the 2020 Census could affect California’s congressional seats.
      The decennial census is the sole basis for reallocating the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. Based on recent population trends, California is likely to either maintain its 53 seats or lose one seat, while large and faster-growing neighbors like Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon could gain one or more seat. Within California, the census count will also factor into decisions about redrawing district lines.

The 2020 Census will realign political representation based on areas of population growth

figure - The 2020 Census will realign political representation based on areas of population growth

SOURCE: PPIC calculations from 2010 Census and 2016 American Community Survey data, via IPUMS-USA (University of Minnesota).

NOTE: California counties are shown on the map, with sub-county population information shown where available. These sub-county areas are public use microdata areas (PUMAs), which each contain roughly 100,000 residents. Counties with fewer than 100,000 residents are grouped.

    • The federal government uses the census count to distribute billions of dollars every year.
      The census count is a critical input for many federal programs, which often aim to deliver resources equitably on a per capita basis or to specific populations, such as young children in poverty. In fiscal year 2015, California received an estimated $76 billion in federal funding tied to the state’s population count. For some programs, such as Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program), California’s base federal funding allocation is subject to a strict minimum level. But for others, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, an undercount could put funding at risk.
    • Many stakeholders rely on the census to learn about California’s changing population.
      The federal government uses census data to develop and conduct annual surveys that offer detailed insights into the state’s demographic composition, economic well-being, and housing situation. Governments, K–12 and higher education institutions, businesses, and nonprofits depend on this information to understand the needs of their communities, target services, and plan for the future. Estimates suggest California has grown by 2.3 million residents and become more racially and ethnically diverse since the 2010 Census.

The 2020 Census will reflect California’s growing racial and ethnic diversity

figure - The 2020 Census will reflect California’s growing racial and ethnic diversity

SOURCE: PPIC calculations from 2016 American Community Survey data.

NOTE: Each box represents roughly 100,000 California residents. About 10 million Californians are in each age group.

  • Large segments of California’s population are historically hard to count.
    In 2016, about 75% of all Californians (30.2 million) belonged to one or more groups that tend to be undercounted in the census, including renters, young men, children, African Americans, and Latinos. The state’s housing crisis, which forces more people into nonstandard living situations, may make certain families harder to reach. Meanwhile, the current political climate may make immigrants and other groups more reluctant to share information with the government—especially given the Commerce Department’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the census.
  • Implementation hurdles have intensified concerns about undercounting.
    The Government Accountability Office has designated the 2020 Census at high risk of failure. In addition to relying more on online responses, the Census Bureau intends to increase the use of administrative records and other new technologies to offset rising costs. But plans to fully test these methods have been delayed or cancelled altogether, in part due to funding constraints. Varying access to internet services across regions and populations could thus exacerbate undercounting.
  • State and local partners are essential in ensuring an accurate count.
    To prepare for the census, state and local governments help verify the accuracy of the Census Bureau’s address lists, an effort that will conclude by summer 2019. In addition, these agencies play a critical role in raising awareness and encouraging residents to respond to the official census questionnaire. Governor Brown has proposed $40.3 million in the state’s 2018–19 budget for outreach and other activities related to the 2020 Census. Community and philanthropic organizations are also well positioned to promote participation among hard-to-count populations so that all residents are accurately represented.


Sources: US Census Bureau, “Idaho is Nation’s Fastest-Growing State” (2017); Election Data Services, “Some Change in Apportionment Allocations with New 2017 Census Estimates” (2017); Tippett, “2020 Congressional Reapportionment: An Update” (UNC Carolina Population Center, 2017); Reamer, Counting for Dollars 2020 (GW Institute of Public Policy, 2017); Mule, Census Coverage Measurement Estimation Report (US Census Bureau, 2012); Government Accountability Office, 2017 High Risk Report: 2020 Decennial Census (2017).

Supported with funding from the California Community Foundation, the California Endowment, and the California Heath Care Foundation


Sarah BohnSarah Bohn
Director of Research and Senior Fellow
Joseph HayesJoseph Hayes
Research Associate
Photo of Tess ThormanTess Thorman
Research Associate




Back To Top