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The 2020 Census deadline extension and what that means for hard-to-count communities

Nearly a month after the city’s shelter-in-place order was established, the San Francisco Latino Equity and Parity Coalition hosted a virtual press conference with city Supervisors to discuss the deadline extension for the 2020 Census in light of the global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Francisco’s Latino residents are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. And with an already established government distrust in the community well before COVID-19 arrived, counting this increasingly vulnerable population could now be even more difficult than ever. 

The United States Census Bureau has shifted gears drastically, revising their schedules and deadlines. From March to mid April, census takers were scheduled to drop off paper invitations to the front-door of 5 million American homes, but COVID-19 pushed those dates to June 13 to July 9. And the deadline for completing the census online, via phone or by mail-in has been extended to Oct. 31. But getting Latinos to participate in the census, even under normal circumstances, has proved historically difficult. 

Anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies from the White House combined with the threat of including a citizenship question on the census and ICE raids have produced fear towards the federal government.

“It is incumbent upon trusted institutions like all of the non-profits that are here on this call to personally reach out and educate the community about the importance of the census and being counted and the benefits it brings directly to the communities that are difficult to count,” said Hillary Ronen, District 9 Supervisor.  

Even though Trump’s quest to include a citizenship question on the census failed, his rhetoric nonetheless dramatically impacts the response rate, which diminishes the accuracy of the 2020 Census. Chaos caused by the current coronavirus pandemic will also obstruct the efforts of community leaders, who are crucial to informing their communities on how to keep their families safe during the emergency, and also how to not fear voluntarily and truthfully describing their households to the census workers. 

“Twenty five percent of the people who have confirmed tested positive for COVID-19 are of the Latinx population, while this population only makes up fifteen percent of the population in San Francisco. So that is a glaring discrepancy in population and it’s the most glaring discrepancy between ethnic group and population in San Francisco,” Ronen said. “This virus is hitting this community in proportions that are not proportionate to this population more so than any other community in our city.”

The pandemic only adds to the difficulty of achieving an accurate census count. 

Researchers have noted that in immigrant populations, young children tend to be the highest undercounted individuals in a household. According to a study on the last census in 2010, 1.3 million kids were unaccounted for. 

“More than three-quarters of whom were 4 years old or younger — were left out of the count,” wrote demographer William O’Hare in his 2015 study. “Young Black and Hispanic children account for about two-thirds of the net undercount in this age group even though they only account for about 40 percent of the population in this age range.”

While these statistics obviously precede the pandemic, they speak to the added challenges to come. 

“The reason why we think this discrepancy is happening is the same reason why it’s hard to count the immigrant community in the census. It’s a community that doesn’t trust the government for very understandable reasons,” Ronen said. “It’s a community that works several jobs to survive and live with many other families in very expensive housing and so they can’t self isolate the way higher income communities can do so. It’s a community that works so hard and have so many jobs they don’t have time to watch the news or get this kind of education like the rest of us about how to protect ourselves. So what we’re doing is relying on the same community based organizations that are so fundamental to our community to do that outreach and that education on how to protect ourselves.”

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