Political eyes are turned firmly eastward right now, between the Democratic Presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa, to further afield in Washington, D.C. where our local Congressman, Adam Schiff, is leading impeachment hearings. But 2020 is going to be absolutely critical for the San Fernando Valley’s future for another reason: in a few months’ time, the decennial census will take place, and its impact will be felt for years down the line.
The census became yet another political football earlier this year, with lawsuits over whether the Administration can include a citizenship question. It’s a relief for the San Fernando Valley that a citizenship question will not be included in the census: as one of the hardest regions to count as it is, a citizenship question could have worsened our undercount.
But Californians and Angelenos who used the citizenship question as another cudgel to attack the President need to remember that the real work starts now. This isn’t an issue that armchair pundits on Twitter can express their outrage and move on with their lives. The census has implications on our representation in Washington and funding for critical services that support our more vulnerable neighbors – and unlike, say, the Presidential election, we won’t have a chance to correct any errors for another 10 years.
This year’s census will be different than before. Each household is going to receive a postcard in the mail with a unique code which they will input into a website to complete the census online. After a couple of reminder postcards, non-responsive addresses will receive an old-fashioned paper questionnaire, followed by federal census workers knocking on their doors.
Why am I so worried? Well, the Census Bureau puts out a map showing which tracts are considered difficult to count, based on demographics, housing types, and socioeconomic characteristics. The redder the tract, the harder it is to count – and a big, dark red patch covers most of our Valley. The dark red extends across many other parts of Los Angeles, as well. All the regions where people are disadvantaged, less able to access computers, less likely to trust federal officials with clipboards, less time to deal with yet another chore when they’re struggling with multiple jobs, child care and commuting.
The Valley has another problem: in many of our communities, more than one family lives at a single address. If one person responds for their own family, census officials will check that address off their list, not realizing that they only have part of the count.
Every person that we miss will cost California about $2,000 each year for the next 10 years. That adds up really quickly, and it’s money we can use here in the Valley for housing, for health care, for children’s services.
The business community has a role to play. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 75 percent of people trust their employer to do what is right. There are concrete steps every person reading this column can take. Download a poster in multiple languages and post it in your employee break room or storefront, provide computers for employees to complete their questionnaire online, use your intranet or employee email lists to explain why it’s so important to respond.
I’m calling on every business in the Valley to visit census.lacity.org before the New Year and learn how they can share information with their employees, their clients, the communities they serve. That should be the business community’s New Year’s Resolution.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.