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2020 Census: Counting Orange and San Diego Counties

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.

More than 6.5 million Californians live in Orange and San Diego Counties. In Orange County, the hardest-to-reach neighborhoods are found in Anaheim, Buena Park, Santa Ana, and Tustin. In San Diego County, the hardest-to-count areas include parts of Oceanside and Escondido in the northwest and, in the southwest, pockets of the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista. Altogether, San Diego County has a higher share of these very hard-to-count areas (18% of census tracts) than Orange County (11%), according to Census Bureau estimates that draw on demographic characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, citizenship, and housing conditions) and historical trends. Both counties have higher shares of these areas than 60% of counties, statewide. Households in these very hard-to-count areas are the least likely to respond initially to census forms and are therefore at risk of being undercounted.

Some highlights:

  • Undercounting hard-to-reach areas could affect political representation in the region. Since the 2020 Census will be used to redraw legislative district lines, political representation could shift away from certain neighborhoods if they are undercounted relative to other areas. For example, in Assembly District 80 (Gonzalez Fletcher), which covers southern parts of the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista, as well as a stretch of the southern border with Mexico, 52% of households are predicted to not respond initially to the census—compared to 19% in the surrounding districts.
  • Knowledge of local population trends can help guide effective outreach. Some neighborhoods in the region have higher concentrations of African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans—populations that have historically been undercounted in the census. Latinos make up the large majority of residents around Anaheim and Santa Ana in Orange County, as well as in parts of the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista in San Diego County. In some of these same neighborhoods, more than a quarter of residents are noncitizens, who may be less likely to respond in 2020 due to the planned addition of a citizenship question. Moreover, in central and eastern parts of San Diego County, working with tribal governments to reach Native Americans will be necessary to count all residents.
  • Housing conditions may present challenges to an accurate count, particularly in urban areas. Renters and people living in overcrowded conditions or mobile homes can be harder to count accurately. Hard-to-count housing in the region is concentrated in urban parts of Orange County and in urban and eastern San Diego County. For example, in several neighborhoods in Anaheim, Stanton, and Santa Ana in Orange County, more a quarter of rentals are overcrowded. The same is true for many neighborhoods in the southwest corner of San Diego County, which also often have high shares of mobile homes. San Diego County has hard-to-count housing in inland areas as well, including in Bostonia, El Cajon, and several tribal lands.
  • The region has small pockets of relatively low internet access. The Census Bureau plans to collect most 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 the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista actually have fewer high-speed residential internet connections than the surrounding suburbs. Central and eastern San Diego County also have relatively low internet connectivity. In these places, it may be harder to collect responses online, and participation will rely more heavily on paper forms, 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 future posts that examine hard-to-count communities in other regions of the state.

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