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 2 million Californians live in the Central Coast counties of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Monterey County has by far the region’s highest share of very hard-to-count census tracts (27%), followed by Santa Barbara (19%) and Ventura (12%). Households in these very hard-to-count areas are at risk of being undercounted because they are less likely to respond initially to census forms, according to Census Bureau estimates that draw on historical trends and local demographic characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, citizenship, and housing conditions).
- The implications of undercounting very hard-to-reach places differ widely for Central Coast legislators. In two districts representing much of Monterey County—Assembly District 30 (Caballero) and Congressional District 20 (Panetta)—about a fifth or more of census tracts are likely to be very hard to count. The same is true for Senate District 19 (Jackson), covering Santa Barbara and most of Ventura County. Other Central Coast districts have relatively low shares of hard-to-count areas. Given this wide variation, understanding the overlapping factors that can make populations hard to reach will be key to ensuring an accurate count of the Central Coast.
- There are hard-to-reach areas scattered throughout the region. In Monterey County, areas around Salinas and the Salinas Valley are likely to be the most difficult to count, with 30% or more of households predicted not to respond initially to the census. Other hard-to-reach areas can be found in the city of San Luis Obispo; Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County; and around Oxnard and Port Hueneme in Ventura County.
- Monterey and San Benito Counties have relatively high shares of historically undercounted racial/ethnic groups. The census has typically undercounted African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. These groups make up about 60% of residents in Monterey and San Benito Counties—but just 24% of San Luis Obispo residents. In Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, these racial/ethnic groups comprise about 45% of the population, similar to the state overall.
- Undercounting young children and noncitizens would dramatically misrepresent Monterey County. Young children have been historically undercounted in the census. In addition, noncitizens may be less likely to respond in 2020 due to the planned addition of a citizenship question and fears about privacy and deportation. Almost 22% of Monterey County residents are noncitizens, and about 8% are under five years old—some of the highest concentrations in the state.
- Outreach to residents in hard-to-count housing will be key to accurately representing the Central Coast. Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties have especially high shares of rental units, overcrowded rentals, and mobile homes. These conditions make it difficult for the Census Bureau to find and count residents. In both counties, nearly 1 in 10 housing units is an overcrowded rental. Northern San Benito County, coastal San Luis Obispo County, Santa Maria, Oxnard, and the Santa Clara River Valley also have hard-to-count housing and will require targeted outreach to fully count residents.
- Limited internet access may be an issue in rural areas throughout the region. The Census Bureau plans to collect the majority of responses online in 2020—a change from previous practice. Each county along the Central Coast has some census tracts with minimal residential high-speed connectivity, with the lowest access outside cities. In Monterey County, for example, fewer than 400 out of every 1,000 households around Prunedale have high-speed internet connections, compared with 600–800 in neighboring Salinas. While people in these areas may have internet through smartphones or public libraries, in general they may have more trouble responding to 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.