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Blog Post · October 3, 2018

2020 Census: Counting Los Angeles County

photo - Los Angeles

The decennial census plays an essential role in American democracy. Our series of blog posts examines what’s at stake for California and the challenges facing the 2020 Census, including communities that are at risk of being undercounted.

PPIC’s 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 about a fourth of the state’s population (10.3 million people), Los Angeles County may be one of California’s hardest-to-count regions in 2020. A third of the county’s census tracts are likely to be very hard to count, according to Census Bureau estimates that draw on local demographic characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, citizenship, and housing conditions) and historical trends. These areas tend to be concentrated in central and east LA south through Compton, as well as parts of Long Beach, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, Pomona, and Palmdale. 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 political representation in the region. Disproportionately undercounting parts of LA County could affect how district lines are redrawn after the census. Legislative districts in central and south LA have some of the highest concentrations of very hard-to-count communities in the state: In State Assembly District 59 (Jones-Sawyer), 96% of census tracts are considered very hard to count. In ten more legislative districts representing parts of central and south LA, over half of neighborhoods are considered very hard to count.
  • Undercounting people of color would dramatically misrepresent LA County’s urban core. About 57% of LA County residents are African American, Latino, or Native American—populations that have historically been undercounted in the census. In most central, south, and east LA neighborhoods, for example, African Americans and Latinos make up 80% to 100% of residents, compared with less than 15% in parts of nearby Beverly Hills and San Marino. If the 2020 Census again undercounts these groups, political representation could shift away from LA’s urban centers.
  • LA County’s hard-to-count housing is concentrated in communities of color. It can be difficult for the Census Bureau to accurately count people in rentals, overcrowded units, and mobile homes. Housing in LA County is among the hardest to count in the state. Moreover, in many neighborhoods with the hardest-to-count housing, nearly all residents are African American and/or Latino. Recognizing ways that hard-to-count communities intersect with each other will be important to conducting effective outreach to LA residents. In addition, reaching homeless Angelenos during the three-day window for counting people at shelters, tent camps, and other places will be critical to a complete and accurate count in the region.
  • Neighborhoods throughout the county have high shares of young children. In particular, east and south LA, as well as Lancaster and Palmdale, have larger concentrations of young children—who are typically undercounted in the census. In many of these neighborhoods, children under five years old make up more than 10% of residents, compared to less than 7% statewide.
  • Low responses from noncitizens would lead to a notable undercount in the region. Noncitizens may be less likely to respond to the 2020 Census due to the planned addition of a citizenship question and concerns about deportation and privacy. About 17% of LA County residents are noncitizens, compared to 14% statewide. In several neighborhoods in central and south LA, east LA, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, and Pomona, more than a quarter of residents are noncitizens.
  • The county has pockets of low internet access, including in the city of LA. The Census Bureau plans to collect the majority of responses online in 2020—a change from previous practice. Though urban areas generally have better internet access than rural areas do, a number of neighborhoods in central and south LA actually have fewer high-speed residential internet connections than the surrounding suburbs. The northeastern corner of the county also has lower levels of internet access. In these places, it may be harder to collect responses online, and participation will rely more heavily on in-person census takers or internet provided by local institutions.

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 more posts that examine hard-to-count communities in other regions of the state.


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