Good News, Bad News with Census Count

Santa Barbara County Numbers Up Slightly from 2010, but Nearly One-Third of Households Uncounted

Credit: S.B. County Census 2020

Here’s the good news for this decade’s Census count: With only one month left, Santa Barbara County has already surpassed the percentage of households that were counted during the 2010 Census. This past weekend, squads of Census workers fanned out throughout the county, knocking on doors of households that didn’t turn in their written questionnaires. By Monday morning, 68.6 percent of the county’s households had been counted. That’s up a smidgen from 68.5 households from 10 years ago. And there’s still a month left before the September 30 deadline. 

The bad news nationwide is that the COVID pandemic and the foreshortened counting period — insisted upon by the Trump White House — is calling into question the thoroughness of the 2020 count. With the counting deadline moved up a month to September 30, about one-third of all households throughout the country — 38 million — have yet to be counted. 

The COVID pandemic poses a problem for the Census door-knockers — technically known as enumerators — because fewer people are inclined to respond positively to questions from strangers wearing vests and bedecked in official-looking lanyards identifying them as Census workers. Making matters tougher still, the New York Times is reporting that one in three people hired by the Census to knock on doors are not showing up for work, in large measure because of health concerns.

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The Census population count is the basis by which about $1.5 trillion in federal grants and aid is apportioned throughout the country annually. Every person counted translates into about $2,000 a year for 10 years in federal disbursements to individual counties. The counts also determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives for the next decade and are also the starting point for how congressional districts and other political boundary lines are drawn up.

About a month ago, the Trump administration announced that it was accelerating the counting deadline up by one month. Before then, the counting would have stopped at the end of October. Now, it’s September 30. 

This was done so that the numbers can be checked and Trump can have the results by December 31, while he is still in office. Typically, the final tallies would go to the president at the end of January. This year, however, the Census Bureau initially sought an extension until the end of April 2021, citing complications that had arisen because of COVID-19. Democrats have suggested that Trump will seek to scratch immigrants not in the country legally from the final tally. If so, that would stand in stark contrast to Census policy to county everyone living in the United States. 

As of August 24, the cities of Santa Barbara, Buellton, Solvang, and Lompoc have exceeded their final tallies from 10 years ago. The cities of Guadalupe and Santa Maria have not. Traditionally, reporting problems tend to be more prevalent in high-density neighborhoods with high concentrations of apartment complexes, low-income individuals, and recent immigrants. 

Beginning August 11, the local Census organizers dispatched “non-response follow-up” workers to begin the process of knocking on doors. About 1,500 people were hired to handle the tri-county area. 

Census organizers have stressed that the answers to the nine questions will be kept strictly confidential. The questions take no more than five minutes to answer and entail such things as how many people live in your domicile, names, birthdates, whether the occupants own or rent, ethnicity and heritage of origin. They will wrap up September 22. 

Because Census data is the basis for determining counties’ nutritional assistance, food stamps, educational funding, and energy services, among other things, local Census organizers have made a point to reach out to as many households as possible, using everything from social media campaigns to yard signs to get the message out. In addition, they collaborated with more than 100 nonprofit organizations.

Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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