Survey results from San Joaquin Valley demographic experts show that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would be likely to have a major impact in suppressing census response among San Joaquin Valley Latino immigrants and their social networks, who make up one-third of the region’s total population. The two reports on consequences of adding the citizenship question and other barriers to a complete count are based on research conducted for The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and its San Joaquin Valley Health Fund.
Because federal and state funding throughout the post-census decade is allocated based on census-derived data and political representation is determined by a community’s, county’s, or state’s share of the national population, census fairness and accuracy is crucial to community well-being. The new reports show that lowered response and resulting undercount might result in the loss of close to $2 billion dollars of federal funding during the post-census decade for the eight-county region.
- Interviews with more than 400 Latino immigrants showed widespread willingness to respond to a simple census that asked a few basic questions about households—with more than eight out of 10 (84 percent) of survey respondents saying “yes.” But if the citizenship question were to be included, less than half (46 percent) would be willing to respond.
- Undocumented immigrants are least willing to respond to a census that includes a question on citizenship at only 25 percent. Immigrants with legal status and naturalized citizens were much less willing to respond if the citizenship question were included (willingness decreased to 63 percent among legal residents and 70 percent among naturalized citizens).
- An unexpected finding was that even the United States-born second-generation adult children of Latino immigrants were also very negative about a census with the citizenship question. Less than half (49 percent) said they would be willing to answer the census if it is included.
- In contrast to what has generally been assumed, decreased willingness to respond to a census that included the citizenship question stemmed not only from uncertainty about whether the government might misuse the information for immigration enforcement, but also from concerns that asking the question was divisive and an unwarranted effort to get personal information if the purpose of the census was to count people.
- The survey also asked if people would be willing to answer an enumerator who might come to their door asking for information about a neighboring household that had not responded. Very few survey respondents—only 8 percent—said they would be willing to provide this information if the citizenship question were to be included.
- Survey results suggest that lowered response stemming from addition of the citizenship question would lead to an undercount of about 11.7 percent of first- and second-generation Latino immigrant households. This differential undercount would decrease the overall Census 2020 count of the San Joaquin Valley population by about 4.1 percent.
- Other factors that will affect the Census 2020 count include uneven delivery of census forms because some households do not have their own mail delivery, have uneven access to the Internet for online response, have literacy and language barriers, or live in complex households where several families live at a single address.
- If the Census Bureau underestimates the extent of non-response and fails to hire the numbers of Spanish-speaking enumerators needed if large numbers of households fail to respond, then census accuracy might decrease still further.
- The expected level of census undercount stemming simply from lowered response among Latino immigrants is projected to cost the San Joaquin Valley region almost $200 million per year in unrealized revenue from federal programs for which funding is allocated based on census data. Census undercount would also dilute Latino political representation.
The report also includes ways in which innovative and collaborative efforts between local communities and the Census Bureau could ameliorate the negative impact of adding the citizenship question.
The San Joaquin Valley Census Research Project is supported by Sierra Health Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, Hellman Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The Grove Foundation, Werner-Kohnstamm Family Giving Fund, New Venture Fund, Sunlight Giving, and Heising-Simons Foundation.
Contact: Katy Pasini
Phone: 916.922.4755 x3304