As California’s diverse regions prepare for the 2020 Census, community-based organizations and local leaders are playing key roles. An event last week in Riverside offered insights on the Inland Empire’s outreach strategies for the Census and beyond. Cosponsored by PPIC and the Center for Social Innovation at the University of California, Riverside, the event featured a panel of state and local experts.
The discussion was moderated by Michelle Decker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. She began by asking Eric McGhee, PPIC senior fellow, to explain the importance of an accurate census count in California. The census helps determine the distribution of federal funding to the states; gathers information about the population that is valuable to policymakers and businesses alike; and is the basis for reapportionment and redistricting. As McGhee pointed out, an undercount of California’s population could be costly in all of these areas.
McGhee noted that California has large shares of “the kinds of groups that tend to be undercounted—Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, renters, very young children, noncitizens.” Finally, he outlined concerns about inadequate funding, which has prevented a thorough testing of the process, and the climate of fear in immigrant communities, which could result in lower response rates even if the Supreme Court rules against the inclusion of a question on citizenship later this month.
But there is some good news: “It wouldn’t take that much for California to overcome some of these challenges,” McGhee said. California is arguably more mobilized than any other state, and the Inland Empire is one of the state’s most mobilized regions.
Deborah Phares, Census 2020 project manager at the Community Foundation, sees the census as a great opportunity for policymakers and organizations across Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. The region’s collaborative efforts were galvanized by a state request for information about innovative census outreach strategies. “We decided that we were going to pursue and support and advocate for allocation of resources based on need,” said Phares, adding that the regional plan is designed to avoid overlapping efforts and to integrate data so that organizations could work together “in a very deep way.”
Karthick Ramakrishnan, founding director of the Center for Social Innovation, underscored the significance of a two-county approach to census outreach that draws from a wide range of communities-—geographic sub-regions and demographic groups. “I think the kind of work that’s happening in the Inland Empire is the envy of the rest of the country. . . .We’re building some pretty amazing tools that will stand the test of time.”
Kathleen Kelly Janus, the newly appointed senior advisor on social innovation in the Governor’s Office, agreed: “I think there’s a huge opportunity to invest in capacity building through all these census dollars that are coming in.” She added that the cross-sector approach involving foundations, community-based organizations, policymakers, and other groups “is a model that we can use not just for the census but for all of these other issues that Governor Newsom wants to address.”