In theory, the decennial undertaking of the U.S. Census seems easy enough: make sure every person is accounted for, in the right place, exactly once. In practice, however, the elaborate and time-consuming process is met with formidable obstacles, even in the best of times.
As the past year saw millions of Americans face some of the most trying circumstances in recent memory, the 2020 U.S. Census called for added diligence and amplified outreach efforts to ensure that historically disenfranchised groups of people, including houseless persons and undocumented immigrants, were included in the data used to redraw congressional district lines and allocate federal funding across the country.
In order to encourage residents in “hard-to-count” areas to participate in the 2020 Census, Santa Barbara County officials and the Santa Barbara Foundation launched the Complete Count Committee (CCC) with “the goal of developing and implementing effective outreach strategies while maximizing resources.”
By the end of the self-response window on October 15, 2020, the response rate in Santa Barbara County was 71.8 percent, up from 68.5 percent in 2010, ranking 13th out of the 58 counties in California.
“It was an extraordinary effort from everyone involved,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann at the Census report Tuesday. “It is really gratifying that we beat our numbers from the previous decade.”
The committee, which consisted of 100 representatives from public, private, and nonprofit sectors, received $494,000 from the state government and an additional $366,000 from the Santa Barbara Foundation. Their plan, approved by the state in November 2019, established four objectives, including to engage community resources, to increase community awareness and trust, to eliminate systemic barriers, and to engage with “hard-to-reach” communities.
As the statewide lockdown due to COVID-19 forced county officials to cancel all in-person events and adapt to social distancing guidelines, the committee virtually supplemented outreach efforts with expanded use of social media, online outreach, and a media advertising campaign.
In addition to the questionnaire being made available by mail, by phone, and online, multilingual flyers directing residents to the Census website were posted around the county and traditional door-to-door canvassing was replaced with phone canvassing and door-drop campaigns. Census caravans, or multi-vehicle mobile outreach operations, were also used as a new way to reach marginalized or vulnerable groups of people.
Of the total budget, 50 percent of the funding was spent on grants to local agencies and coalitions to conduct Census outreach and activities with an additional 39 percent put toward project management and advertising. The remaining 11 percent was spent on web production and marketing collateral.
The board unanimously passed a measure to file a wrap-up report of the Census 2020 Complete Count in Santa Barbara County.