Santa Barbara County and several local communities are gearing up to ensure a full head count in the 2020 U.S. Census, which begins in less than a year.
California government officials also are concerned about an accurate count, to such an extent they are funneling money to counties to help with costs. Santa Barbara County’s share is $350,000.
In fact, the county likely will need every one of those dollars to get the most spot-on count, in large part because a lot of people prefer not to be counted. They don’t trust giving so much of their personal data to government agencies.
That’s a shame, because that data is what helps the federal government determine what share of the annual budget funds available go to which states. An accurate count also plays a key role in setting the number of congressional representatives each state will get.
There already is a political fly in the 2020 census soup. The Trump administration seeks to have a citizenship qualifier on the questionnaire, which could compel many non-citizens in this country to take a pass on being counted.
The problem with a citizenship qualifier is that it defies an important rule spelled out in the U.S. Constitution — to count every person living in the United States, no matter their citizenship status.
Even without a citizenship question, many local residents refuse to be counted. The 2000 census in Santa Maria had only 78-percent participation. In the 2010 census, that dropped to 72 percent.
The irony is that the Trump administration probably figured adding the citizenship question would take a lot of potential Democrat voters out of the election mix. In fact, tracking data suggests that both Democrats and Republicans would suffer about equally from an undercount. So, the political component has, for practical purposes, been neutralized.
There is no viable reason that either political party should be harmed by a full head count. Counting every resident ensures that states and the people living in those states get a fair share of the benefits of a full census count.
There will likely never be a truly 100-percent census count, because there are so many groups of people who don’t want to be or can’t be counted. That hard-to-count population includes racial and ethnic minorities, college students, the elderly and immigrants.
All have different reasons for dodging the census, but the elderly and the poor have a specific reason, which will be exacerbated in 2020 — lack of access to the internet. For the first time, a significant portion of the 2020 census will be conducted online. So, no computer or access to a computer and/or the internet means many of those groups will be left uncounted.
We can’t argue against the internet census element, because we all seem to be headed in that direction and to that communications platform. But complicating the head count with a citizenship qualifier is anti-American, at least in the sense of following rules established in the U.S. Constitution.
Some of you reading this may have second thoughts about participating in the 2020 census. Please put those thoughts aside. California, its communities and its residents need an accurate count, because there are literally, billions of dollars riding on the most accurate count we can provide.
The census is not about partisan politics. It’s about gathering facts, and one of those immutable facts is that not everyone living in this country is a citizen. People living here on the Central Coast are acutely aware of that.