Talking Census

Mayor Robert Garcia delivers opening remarks Friday during the first meeting of Long Beach’s Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census at the Jenny Oropeza Community Center.

The next decade of Long Beach’s federal funding and congressional representation will be determined in next year’s census — and officials here are already working to ensure the city isn’t shortchanged by an undercount.

Long Beach’s Complete Count Committee — which includes representatives from the city’s schools, healthcare facilities, community organizations and more — kicked off its work with a Friday, Aug. 9, meeting.

Mayor Robert Garcia opened the gathering by emphasizing the importance of an accurate count — a goal, he said, Long Beach hasn’t always been able to achieve.

“We will lose literally thousands of dollars for one person that we don’t count,” Garcia said. “We know, without question, that in the last census count that we did, back in 2010, that Long Beach was undercounted. That’s a fact.”

Garcia noted that funding for federal programs such as Medicaid, Pell Grants, nutrition assistance and more are often tied to census data, underscoring the importance of a full tally.

Population size also dictates how many U.S. congressional representatives a state gets — and how those congressional maps ultimately get drawn.

Each congressional representative nationwide must represent about the same number of people, currently about 710,000 folks each. That means District 21 Congressman TJ Cox, a Democrat, represents a population spread across 6,730 square miles in rural Central California. The two congress members who represent portions of Long Beach — as well as other nearby cities — each represent approximately the same number of people as Cox but across a combined area of 295 square miles.

Julian Cernuda, Long Beach’s 2020 Census project manager, said on Friday that an undercount could cost Long Beach a representative.

Although Friday was the committee’s first meeting, city officials have been working on a plan for a full census count for the past year and a half — a correction, Garcia said, to how Long Beach has approached the census previously.

“I remember when we did the census, back 10 years ago, and I was just coming on board as a council member,” he said. “To be honest, we weren’t overly organized as a city or a community, and there was no dedicated staff at the city. There were certainly some strong community partnerships, but nothing like you see today.”

As a city with no racial majority — the highest share of residents, at 43%, is Hispanic, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data — Long Beach has long touted its diversity.

But that mix is also what makes an accurate census tally so difficult to accomplish.

An array of factors, including race, age, income, education, employment, native language, housing status and more, make certain communities tougher to count than others, Cernuda said.

Cernuda said none of those things alone would officially designate someone as “hard to count,” but the government does use that data to determine which areas will require more outreach efforts to tally everyone.

“You never really know if someone may be hard to count that’s walking down the street,” he said. “It’s hard to tell, but its an aggregation of characteristics.”

In addition to those factors, Cernuda said, residents in areas with more condos and apartment complexes are harder to count than those in single-family neighborhoods.

Long Beach maintains a hard-to-count heat map, showing where city residents are the least likely to be counted. It shows that the downtown area, along with parts of Central, West and North Long Beach, are where the highest risks of an undercount lie.

But besides the challenges that have always existed with reaching folks who may not speak English or may not prioritize responding to the census, city officials said Friday that the recent legal battle over whether the U.S. Department of Commerce could include a citizenship question in the 2020 census — which the federal government ultimately lost — will make this year’s count even tougher.

Cities with big immigrant populations, such as Long Beach, have expressed concerns that Latino and other minority groups could now be even less likely to respond to the census because of fears that the government would use citizenship data to deport folks who are undocumented.

Even though the Supreme Court ruled against adding the question, Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said, “I think we can all agree there’s going to be some residual impact in terms of the anxiety that has already been created in the community in terms of the citizenship question.”

But regardless of the challenges, Garcia said, Long Beach has a responsibility to count every single one of its residents.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “There’s fear amongst groups that are already hard to count, so those are the realities of what we have to address.

“We cannot let either rhetoric that we might hear,” Garcia said, or “let funding challenges that we might have get in the way.

“We’re all in this together.”

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