Census Bureau workers spread awareness about the 2020 Census at the Westfield Fashion square mall in Sherman Oaks, Calif. in December 2019. (Photo by Macy Kwon)
Cleveland Charter High School

LAUSD’s efforts to prevent a census undercount

The U.S. Census Bureau considers children and young people aged 18-24 as “hard to count,” but youth activists worked to increase participation in the 2020 Census. 

Census counts determine how much of the $675 billion per year in federal funds are evenly distributed into communities — funds spent on public works including schools, hospitals and roads, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.

“If there is not an intense drive behind getting [the census count] right, then getting it wrong can be devastating,” Jenifer Macon, the Assistant Advisor to Cleveland High School’s Black Student Union said. 

Inaccurate population counts in the Census can have devastating consequences as an overcount or undercount would create disruptions in federal and state funding. The Census also provides information the government uses for emergency services, resources, and investment in schools, public health and infrastructure.

National and public surveys are also based on the Census, so a miscounted population could lead to inaccurate statistics, according to a 2019 policy brief by The Committee for Economic Development

LAUSD and its student leaders made the 2020 Census a focus for youth activism in their Student Advisory Council. The SAC put funding toward awareness on participation through grants and informational videos, with focus on certain neighborhoods that have previously been undercounted, such as Pacoima, Arlita and Hollywood, according to data collected by LAUSD, Katherine Manno, a representative of the LAUSD SAC said.

“We’re the people trying to bring awareness to these neighborhoods… It’s important that we get the most accurate count possible so our communities can sustain ourselves in such polarized times,” Manno said.

Manno said that the importance of an accurate census count must be recognized by the public, as it is crucial to solve other societal problems like homelessness, which has risen in Los Angeles. 

A 2019 study by the nonprofit Urban Institute assesses potential miscounts in the 2020 Census and found that between nearly 900,000 and more than 4 million people could be missed.

The study also found that miscounts could be disproportionate to Black people by 3.68% and Latino people by 3.57%. This study also notes that a lack of access to technology could lead to less responsiveness in the 2020 Census. This miscount would also mean an unfair distribution of resources and representation.

As Census counts are responsible for political representation, a miscount would diminish accurate and equal representation in regards to population in government which would affect government policy.

LAUSD has also made efforts to create an informative video on the Census, specifically having it in at least three languages, in attempting to battle the language barrier. LAUSD has also begun initiatives to offer grants to open a Census booth in schools to further propel awareness. 

“Part of what gives me hope about our future is young people,” Macon said. 

Although there wasn’t any Census action planned for the Cleveland High School BSU, Macon spoke on her concern regarding the citizenship question.

“It’s a scary time,” Macon said. “Overall the numbers are going to be down. The consequences of this administration’s policies and rhetoric will be seen for years to come.” 

Cleveland High School senior Diksha Dahal emphasized the importance of an accurate Census count.

“It’s literally a reflection of what our society looks like. It reflects the changing demographics, especially [in] a place [as] diverse as L.A.,” Dahal said. 

As college students are a group that often is miscounted according to the Census Bureau’s website, the Census Bureau and L.A.’s Countywide Outreach Complete Count Committee has made it a priority to bring more awareness and gain a more accurate count. 

As recorded in the High Education Sub-Committee Meeting of student representatives of colleges including UCLA, USC, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, L.A. Harbor College, Loyola Marymount University, and Southwest College, worked with Census Bureau officials and County Executives to bring awareness to their own colleges and account for homeless students, confused students, and complicated housing arrangements. 

Divided into three operations, the student representatives plan on increasing enumeration through advance contact (confirming info and addresses of different students), service base enumeration (counting students at shelters and outreach events, and group quarter operations. )

Some suggested strategies to increase participation were email blasts, student portals, civic engagement through “competitions” in Greek life, working with Dreamers in conscious activism, student orientations, using volunteer hours as an incentive, and standard awareness methods: flyers and buttons.

The Census Bureau has worked to help combat the problem with various organizations. In partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, the Bureau has highly encouraged various members of the community through booths set up at public, communal spaces and flyers, specifically the recent high school graduates, to sign up as hires to spread and encourage participation in the census in their communities. 

This has the effect of allowing trusted members of the community to help approach members, especially those wary or those who have a high distrust of the American government.

Furthermore, the Census Bureau has also sent programs across college campuses to attempt to have student leaders within campuses, to encourage college students and inform them about the processes. Ultimately, supplying pamphlets, action plans, and important information about the Census to mention, the Bureau has attempted to fix inaccurate enumeration upon student campuses through awareness. 

Students of all ages have been accounted for in the Census Bureau’s attempt to pair up with districts nationwide in their Statistics in Schools program. Originating in Tennessee with the “Everybody Counts” festival in Memphis, this event and program has worked to spread awareness to students and teachers from K-12 to help inform them and their families about the importance of participation. 

The U.S. Census Bureau has made their Statistics in the Schools program more accessible to educators as a way to stimulate conversation and participation in the census through education. 

The  Statistics in Schools program also works to include the 2020 census and its statistics within the classroom. This has meant the usage of interactive videos, songs, wall maps, etc. Activities have also included a focus in helping adults learning English as their second language.