The Kern Complete Count Committee launched its community-based census education outreach efforts last week at the Martin Luther Kind Jr. Community Center with a goal to get an accurate count for the 2020 Census.
The committee planned to launch their canvassing efforts as a way to engage residents at their homes on Wednesday; however the weather caused the committee to postpone the efforts. Soon, volunteers will be canvassing on weekends and informing people of the importance of enumerating themselves.
“We have been working super hard and diligently through the local complete count committee to bring strategies and efforts to do really, really hard outreach in the next couple of months leading up to next year,” said Mai Thao of the State Census Office.
The committee shared at the press conference their outreach efforts rely on maps that outline hard-to-count communities throughout Kern, according Camila Chavez, the executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Depending on the demographics and needs of the hard-to-count community, different organization will take on canvassing efforts in the communities by going door to door to educate and inform community members of the census, Chavez said. These organizations include faith-based organizations and public service agencies such as DHF, the Jakara Movement, Faith in the Valley and more.
“It’s a lot of coordination,” Chavez said. “It’s very detailed.”
The state of California has invested $187 million into outreach efforts, specifically in hard-to-count communities to ensure all Californians are counted, Thao said. In the 2010 census, some hard-to-count communities in Kern had a response rate of 69 percent, which the Census Bureau considers low.
“There is going to be a lot of education, motivation and activation up to census day next year,” Thao said.
The 2020 Census will determine how $685 billion will be distributed across the country, according to a news release, and an undercount could put community programs at risk of losing federal funds.
“Data collected by this questionnaire is extremely and vitally important because it plays a critical role in policy making and planning for the next decade,” said Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez. “This information serves as the foundation of fair political representation as well as the allocation of federal funds to our communities.”
The dollars from the census have a direct impact on local schools, roads, hospitals, child care and senior centers and other services that “support our community and the quality of life,” Perez said.
The 2020 Census marks the first time the questionnaire will be available online, which some say could present some technological barriers for residents in hard-to-count communities.
“The hard-to-count populations include those who are foreign born, renters, individuals living in homes without broadband connection, people living below the poverty line and children under 5 years old,” Perez said.
Speakers from all ethnic communities spoke on how the census will impact their community.
“For a community that often feels seen, yet unheard, for a community that often feels feared but at the same time ignored,” said Deep Singh, the executive director of the Jakara Movement, of the local Sikh population. “The census is a historic opportunity that brings together past to the present to tell the story of the future.”
Nick Hill, the president of Kern County’s Black Chamber of Commerce spoke of the hardships in enumerating the local African American population.
“We have a special set of circumstances,” Hill said. “We have certain areas in Bakersfield that maybe many may not be comfortable going into, so we have to implore our social clubs that can infiltrate these areas that no one feels comfortable going into.”
He continued: “We have to make sure that we get fully counted, and we have to make that effort a little more extraordinary than other ethnic groups.”
Canvassing volunteers will not only be going door to door to educate Kern’s hard-to-count communities. They will also be at a number of events with information for residents before census day, April 1, 2020.
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.