In the heart of Stockton, California’s hardest-to-count census tract faces politics, pandemic and fear
- San Joaquin County Census Tract 1 is the hardest to count in the state, with most Latino or black residents. Some 68.8% of its residents have an income below 150% of the poverty level, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
- The leaflet encompasses all of the obstacles that other tough areas in California face, organizers say, but in one place. It is home to communities of color — more than half of the territory identifies as Latino, according to census data — and more than 86% of families speak primarily Spanish at home.
- This year, Stockton was named the nation’s most racially diverse city by US News and World Report. California is home to seven of the 10 most diverse cities, according to the survey.
- With a population of around 312,000, the city had been hit hard by foreclosures and poor municipal investment when Wall Street collapsed, and it was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2012. Life in Stockton has improved since then, but the recovery has not been even across the world. city, organizers say.
STOCKTON — Crowds formed a line alongside the taco truck parked near Fremont Park in Stockton and waited for the free fare they had earned for filling out their census forms.
About 175 residents of San Joaquin County Census Tract 1, the hardest to count in the state — most of them Latino or black — had stopped by on a recent afternoon to ‘taco’ bout the census with workers from El Concilio, a community nonprofit organization that has partnered with state census and local authorities to increase participation for groups that have historically been underappreciated.
Flanked by chalkboards filled with information about the 10-year count, residents chatted with “trusted messengers” – community members tasked with reaching out to hard-to-count groups – and used tablets to complete the survey. Salsa and jazz played in the background as workers handed children census stickers which they proudly wore on the backs of their hands.
Organizers have had their work cut out in a census year that has become increasingly politicized, mired in a pandemic, ongoing court battles, concerns over a possible citizenship issue, data security respondents and whether the information could be used to track or exclude immigrants from the survey.
They surveyed neighborhoods and held rallies and briefings where they explained how census data turns into federal dollars that trickle down to states and cities. After the coronavirus wiped out the ability to gather in person, they launched phone banks and refined social media campaigns. Now, with the count set to end on October 31, they are making their last push before the deadline.
“Getting people to open their doors is not easy,” said Jose Rodriguez, president of El Concilio, an organization with 52 years of history in the Central Valley that offers education, counseling and vocational training to various communities.
He described parts of the census tract as “rough” and a “policing hotspot” with high crime rates.
“Some people you ask to solicit and they won’t do it because they’re scared, but we’ll do it in groups of three,” he said. “We say, these are our cousins, our friends, our parents – why don’t we go there? They may have broken street lamps, but they are people. They still count.
Rumor on citizenship issue stokes fears
Despite the organization’s efforts to communicate to residents that a citizenship question does not appear in the census, it remains “a big problem”, he added, referring to last year’s battle over the Trump administration’s argument that the move was necessary to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Opponents countered that it was a transparent ploy to reduce minority voting power and the federal clout of blue states like California.
Still, the efforts of community organizations have shown promise in Stockton, where the state’s most difficult area self-response rate is 41.6%, slightly higher than its response rate of 36, 2% in 2010.
The leaflet encompasses all of the obstacles that other tough areas in California face, organizers say, but in one place. It is home to communities of color — more than half of the territory identifies as Latino, according to census data — and more than 86% of families speak primarily Spanish at home.
Some 68.8% of its residents have an income below 150% of the poverty level, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
Most of the dwellings in Census Tract 1 (some 98.6%) are occupied by renters, which poses another challenge for an accurate count. Tenants are more difficult to enumerate because they are harder to reach when canvassing and following up with non-respondents that require enumerators to knock on people’s doors to invite them to complete the form. Some may not answer the door for a stranger, and others may not complete the census correctly because they fear a landlord will learn that there are more people living in a unit than allowed. .
The digital divide increases barriers
And in a census that primarily collects data online for the first time, between 60% and 80% of households in the area lack high-speed internet.
“In many cities and towns in California across the country, there is always one side of town that has the resources families need to thrive, and on the other side there are families struggling to survive,” said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of Communities. for a New California Education Fund, an organization that has worked to boost census participation. “Census Tract 1 is emblematic of this part of the city that has been established but is still suffering, especially with respect to sprawl.”
States rely on census data to form school district boundaries, and many services that people rely on in California and across the country, such as nutrition programs and housing assistance, are linked funds calculated using the census. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California.
In fiscal year 2017, 316 federal spending programs relied on 2010 census data to distribute $1.5 trillion to state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses and households nationwide, according to a study by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy. At stake is not only federal taxpayers’ money, but also the political redistricting and redistribution of the seats allocated to each state in the United States House of Representatives.
The Stockton tract offers insight into the struggles facing other parts of California with large underserved populations, including Los Angeles and parts of Orange and Riverside counties, as well as rural pockets with hard-to-reach addresses. track or limited internet access.
This year, Stockton was named the nation’s most racially diverse city by US News and World Report. California is home to seven of the 10 most diverse cities, according to the survey.
With a population of around 312,000, the city had been hit hard by foreclosures and poor municipal investment when Wall Street collapsed, and it was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2012. Life in Stockton has improved since then, but the recovery has not been even across the world. city, organizers say.
“It’s a story of two cities that can be seen in Modesto, Bakersfield, Merced and Los Angeles for that matter,” said Rodriguez, of Communities for a New California Education Fund. “A lack of investment and struggling families when other neighborhoods are over-invested and thriving in a very different way. It’s definitely a snapshot of something happening not just in Stockton but across the state.
And shifting census timelines haven’t helped the cause, he said.
Many feel left behind
Last month, a federal appeals court decided to let stand a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from stopping the census early. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that stopping the Census Bureau‘s count “now risks undermining” its mission.
For every Californian missed by the census, officials say, the state loses about $2,000 a year in federal program funding. The state has made a significant investment in the 2020 count, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, pouring some $187 million into census-related activities since 2018.
So far, 69.4% of California households, or more than 10.5 million housing units, have self-responded to the census, up from 68.2%, or 9.3 million, in 2010.
“This is historic,” said Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count Census 2020 Office. Between 2.15 million and 2.5 million households surveyed this year are in hard-to-count areas.
Those who live in hard-to-track areas aren’t apathetic, Rodriguez said — they’re just cynical and don’t believe their civic engagement will pay off.
“It’s like, ‘You’re always making promises that you’ll fix the streets, you’ll improve the parks, but I just don’t see it,'” he said.
Some, he says, feel left out. When he or others explain that the census is a 10-year investment in the community, they respond that their future is not in this area and that they hope to be gone by the next decade.
“There are people who will say, ‘No matter what I do, there’s somebody at the federal level trying to put a thumbs up on us.’ People are nice about it, but there’s definitely a sense of hopelessness,” he said. “But even so, California exceeded its overall 2010 tally.”