Youth volunteers with CHIRLA, America Barrera, left, and Jimena Flores, encourage a family to participate in the 2020 census. (Liz Moughon / Los Angeles Times)
Oak Park High School

Ventura County students spread census awareness

Every 10 years, all United States residents are sent a comprehensive survey to determine an approximate amount of people residing in each district, city and state of the United States. These numbers are then used for federal resource allocation, dictating the amount of money given to each region based on its population.

Historically, the highest undercount rates have been among children, according to the United States Census Bureau, especially high for young children between the ages of zero and four.

Other age groups, such as ages 10-17, are severely undercounted, and many members of these age groups are not even aware of the census, and the importance of an accurate count. Of over 100 Oak Park High School students surveyed, less than 45% knew of the Census and its effects on the allocation of funds.

One student at Oak Park High School, junior Prerana Rao, has been keeping up with Census information since summer 2019.

“I try to keep up with the news as much as I can, and when I heard about what the government was trying to do, to intentionally undercount residents in communities with large amounts of undocumented immigrants, I was really frustrated,” Rao said. “I obviously want to help, but it doesn’t seem like there is much that I can do, other than make sure people know the whole concept of the census when it comes around.”

However, there are passionate students who hope to help the census count be as accurate as possible. Westlake High School sophomores Annie Wynner and Samantha Reed are determined to spread awareness of the importance and repercussions of the census, and to spread knowledge of how it works.

Wynner and Reed were inspired when, earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s administration inquired as to whether the Department of Commerce could, for the first time in history, pose a citizenship question on the census next year. This legislature was not passed, yet it is still projected to have an affect on the 2020 Census.

“I started posting about the Census [on my Instagram] over the summer, when [the Trump administration] was trying to add questions about citizenship status to [the Census],” Reed said in an email. “I started to read about the effects [an undercount in the Census] would have on communities with large immigrant populations, and I was outraged.”

The addition of citizenship questions has become a cause of great concern for the many non-citizen residents of the United States. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, approximately 9.8% of households in 2016 had at least one non-citizen member.

While all information given in the Census is entirely anonymous, and any information one gives as part of the Census cannot be shared or used against them in any way, a major undercount is still expected, due in large part to previous anti-immigrant actions carried out by the Trump administration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the inclusion of this question to the 2020 Census may put nearly 45 million people at risk of not being counted.

Although Reed is not in a specific community at high risk of being undercounted, she understands the effects on Southern California as a whole. According to the L.A. Times, this census determines the allocation of over $800 billion in federal tax dollars, and an undercount in Southern California could lead to the loss of up to two congressional seats.

Oak Park High School junior Naomi Lin said she became involved in spreading awareness about the census after realizing the effects an undercount in the census could have on certain communities.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think it was a big deal until recently,” Lin said. “I had never really seen it on the news, and nobody really talks about it much. But, when I did hear about it, I was really surprised. I know that something needs to be done.”