Accelerated pace of census data collection, as decreed by Trump, intensifies challenges in Kern

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — President Trump’s order directing the U.S. Census Bureau to end its 2020 population count a month earlier than previously planned has raised some questions.

One of those questions is this very basic one: What good is the census anyway? Why bother? The answer: Money — lots of it, that effects our lives in profound but often unrecognized ways. Important to know, because census takers start going door to door next week.

Federal funding based on census data — hundreds of billions of dollars worth — pays for everything from highway construction to the national school lunch program, from unemployment insurance to wildlife restoration. Literally hundreds of programs great and small.

Dolores Huerta, whose Bakersfield-based Dolores Huerta Foundation has been canvassing the southern San Joaquin Valley encouraging participation in the census, said the negative impact could be widespread.

“We’re going to lose millions and millions of dollars, especially here in the Central Valley, especially in Los Angeles, where we have huge, huge, huge Latino populations and people with low incomes,” she said. “We’re going to lose so much money, and this is the place where we need the income the most because of so many neighborhoods that don’t have street lights, that don’t have sidewalks. We don’t have the clinics, we don’t have the doctors that we need. So I have to say to the people, please participate in the census.”

But now, with the president having ordered the effort cut short — and the census having already been highly impacted by the pandemic — the pace has quickened even more.

“Next week, when we start sending census takers door to door, we want to let the public know that their health and safety is our top concern,” said Donald Bendz of the U.S. Census Bureau, “and that all of our census takers will be wearing face masks, they will have hand sanitizer and they’re going to be following local health department guidelines.”

Kern County is especially vulnerable because its overall poverty rate makes it a net recipient of government programs whose funding is based on census data. The county’s poverty profile also makes us less likely to respond to the census.

Right now, according to the Census Bureau, Bakersfield has a self-response rate of 61.5 percent, a point behind the U.S. average and two points behind the state average.

An undercount could actually reduce the state’s representation in Washington if other states gain more population relative to California — a concern in several other states as well, including Texas and Florida.

KGET asked Rep. Kevin McCarthy for his thoughts on the president’s decision to cut short the process. In a statement, McCarthy said he was confident the census would be conducted in an efficient and appropriate manner and promised a robust effort.

“It is critical that our census is conducted in an efficient and appropriate manner, and the U.S. Census Bureau has put forth a new plan to meet this goal by the new deadline,” McCarthy said. “This includes implementing robust ground operations, measures to ensure social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a secure system to review data after it has been collected to guarantee its accuracy. I am confident that through these measures we will be able to conduct a complete and thorough count.”

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