San Jose leads big cities in census responses but still has far to go
Census workers provide outreach at a community event in Santa Clara County

San Jose is ranked high among big cities when it comes to completing the U.S. Census, but the Bay Area’s largest city is still behind its mark from last decade, likely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials say.

With 63.3 percent of its census completed, San Jose is No. 1 among cities that have more than 1 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Ultimately the people of Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose have responded in a great way to filling out their census,” said Jeffrey Enos, deputy regional director for the Los Angeles Census Bureau. “They understand the importance of the census and we have a lot of strong partners to help us get the word out.”

San Jose is also ranked third among cities with populations over half a million and fifth among cities with 300,000 or more people.

The bureau calculates these rates by comparing the number of submissions to the number of forms distributed. It began mailing out forms in March.

Although ahead of the curve nationally, San Jose is still more than 10 percent behind its final tally from the last census 10 years ago. Then, 74.6 percent of city residents filled out the critical form that helps determine how much federal funding and representation the state will get for the next decade.

Some local leaders and census employees strongly believe the coronavirus has hindered people from being counted.

“I think the pandemic has made things exponentially harder,” said Nicholas Kuwada, manager at the Santa Clara County Census Office. “There has been a damper in many of these plans that we’ve laid out for outreach, so we’ve shifted our strategy around to other things.”

The Census Office was prepared to place 105 digital kiosks around the county and have employees knock on doors to get more residents counted. However, California’s stay-at-home order put a halt to that.

While maintaining social distancing, census employees are trying to connect to people virtually.

Enos said the bureau launched a “large” advertising campaign across the country — focusing on social media platforms.

“We don’t just dump a bunch of money into media and say, ‘God, I hope it works,’” Kuwada said. “We are targeting areas where people are not responding. That’s where we want our ads to be.”

California leaders invested $187.2 million into its outreach and communication campaign, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said she thinks Santa Clara County has a significant number of residents who are “hard to count.”

“I think undocumented community members are more likely to be fearful of completing government forms, understandably so,” Ellenberg said. “If you live here in Santa Clara County, you count. We want to count you. We value you.”

She added that homeless people, children who live in multi-generation homes and people with language barriers are also vulnerable to not being counted in the census. This year’s form is offered in English plus 12 other languages. There is also no question regarding citizenship on the form.

The U.S. Census Bureau has pushed back its completion deadline from July 31 to Aug. 14. However, there is a movement to push that deadline to Oct. 31, Kuwada said.

“The census holds a lot of importance in regards to how resources get divvied up in a community,” said downtown San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez. “That is how we may be able to get support, for instance, in a crisis like we’re in today.”

An undercount could lead to a loss of millions of dollars for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Section 8 vouchers, as well as a loss of political power if the region loses a congressional seat as it did in 1990.

The county reports that $76 billion a year are at stake for California alone. Santa Clara County could stand to lose $2,000 per year in federal funding for every person who is not counted.

Contact Luke Johnson at 18johnson.luke@gmail.com and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.

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