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Census 2020: ‘Making Black Count’ During a Global Pandemic




When the official U.S. Census Day 2020 came April 1, the global coronavirus pandemic was worsening. It had already forced social and economic shutdowns across America.

Since then, all the major African American community-based organizations, political leaders and other advocates in California — concerned that there may be an undercount of Black Californians during the 2020 census count — find themselves grappling.

Under a statewide shelter-in-place order, those groups have been working overtime, rejiggering outreach strategies from a boots-on-the-ground game to expanding online get-the-word-out campaigns with most of their social media content identifiable by the hashtag #MakeBlackCount.

Their goal, leaders say, is to ensure every Black household in California accurately completes its 2020 Census form.

Their hard work is paying off.

So far, California has a 53.8% response rate, which is higher than the national response rate of 52.4%. The state is on good footing at this point, considering that this is still the first phase of the national count, and census workers have not yet even begun to conduct in-person, door-to-door data collection campaigns.

About 47.8% of participants in the state have responded online, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Up and down the state, most of the groups we’ve reached out to told us that they have had to step back and reimagine how they can best get their message to those African American families and individuals who live in our hardest-to-count communities,” said Regina Wilson, executive director of California Black Media and a member of the California Complete Count committee.

“It is not business as usual,” Wilson continued.  “To be successful during this crisis, they have had to switch up their plans in real time. It’s remarkable, but to achieve a full count of Blacks in the state, we have to keep that momentum up.”

During Census Week, responses jumped 9.1 percentage points — an estimated 1.36 million households self-responded to the Census form, the California Census 2020 Campaign announced April 9.

“We understand there is still more work to be done to make sure all Californians, especially those who are hard to count, fill out their questionnaire. We are proud of the work our partners are doing to push these self-response rates,” said Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office. “We’d like to remind everyone that filling out the Census form will help bring needed representation and resources to California’s diverse communities.”

The state’s success to date stems from the California Census Campaign’s work with more than 120 partners including local governments, tribal governments, K-12 schools, county offices of education, community-based organizations, state agencies and departments, faith-based organizations, labor unions, small businesses, ethnic and mainstream media outlets, and others.

COVID-19 prompted the Census Bureau to prioritize an online count; and caused the California governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order for everyone except essential workers — or people going out to pick up medicines, shop for groceries or fill up their cars with gas.

Having to adhere to a 6-foot physical distancing mandate between people, per Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, has also influenced how census informational campaigns are being executed.

But advocates say they are now more determined than ever to work for a complete count.

Many rely on social media and web-conferencing events and they emphasize that the confidential, simple 9-question Census questionnaire can be completed quickly online at, and by phone in English and other languages at 844-330-2020.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been sending paper forms to households that haven’t responded to the Census.

“Just think about Head Start and Meals on Wheels, and after-school programs.  That’s all dependent on getting everybody counted,” said Cassandra Jennings, president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted its enumeration timeline. Field activities, which were scheduled to begin March 1, will not start until June 1. The bureau also warned that those dates and the processes associated with them might change, too.