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Blog Post · November 20, 2019

Video: Counting the Central Valley

photo - Large Crowd of People

The 2020 Census is fast approaching, and the stakes are high for California—political representation and federal funding are on the line. The San Joaquin Valley, with a population of 4.3 million, may be one of the state’s hardest-to-count regions. In Sacramento last Friday, PPIC convened a discussion about how valley communities are preparing for the census.

California has long been home to high numbers of “hard to count” residents—including young children, renters, and immigrants. In 2020, the difficulty of counting all Californians will be greater than ever. PPIC researcher Joe Hayes outlined the challenges, which range from uneven internet access to a lack of trust: “Individuals are less likely to respond out of privacy concerns, on the one hand, but also out of distrust for the federal government.”

The good news is that state and local governments have invested heavily in outreach. Complete Count Committees have been established counties across the state, and community-based organizations are spearheading outreach efforts. To help guide these efforts, PPIC created interactive maps that show hard-to-count communities across the state. Maria Jeans, program coordinator for the Maddy Institute, moderated a panel discussion about the factors that make counting the Central Valley so challenging—and how challenges are being addressed.

Jesus Martinez, executive director of Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, highlighted the challenge of organizational capacity. As local preparations for the census got under way in 2018, he realized that “only a handful” of those who wanted to get involved “had any type of personal or institutional experience with the census.”

Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor, cited the difficulty of reaching remote rural settings across the Central Valley and the large numbers of farmworkers, language minorities, young children, and residences with multiple households. He included students enrolled at UC Davis and other colleges in the Central Valley—especially those “who are renters, living in different kinds of group settings”—as a hard-to-count population.

The panelists agreed that the fear generated by federal immigration rhetoric and policies are particularly challenging for the Central Valley. As a result, census outreach must focus on more than just making sure California gets its fair share of federal funding. As Martinez put it, “This is a human rights and civil rights issue for us now. It is the right of immigrants to be included in the 2020 Census.” Much of the outreach involves person-to-person conversations—canvassing and phone banking, “house meetings” among neighbors, and interactive media.

Cindy Quezada, senior program officer at Sierra Health Foundation, noted that encouraging people to participate is not the only challenge. “Sometimes people might want to participate but they don’t have a way to,” she said. “Either you’re living in a trailer in a backyard so you’re not going to get the invite and you’re not going to get an enumerator visit, or you may not speak a language that’s supported.” These structural barriers “are something we should really be paying attention to.”


Census census undercount Central Valley decennial census federal funding Health & Safety Net Political Landscape Population