California’s Call for Inclusion: Why Philanthropy Should Engage in Census 2020

Thursday, February 8, 2018

California has long been home to a special kind of American Dream. People from all walks of life come to our state to find opportunity and prosperity. Since we were granted statehood in 1850 after the Mexican-American War, when the population was just less than 100,000, we have grown to the most populous state in the nation, with nearly 39 million residents.

The California of today is heralded by many as a shining star of our times. We are the 6th largest economy in the world. We are home to 10 million immigrants, the largest immigrant community of any state. While experts predict that the US will become a “majority-minority” country in 2044, California already is.

It is also true that California is facing profound challenges. We have a higher poverty rate than the US average. We rank 41st in the nation in public spending per K-12 student on education. There are stark racial disparities from the criminal justice system to representation in the C-suite. And housing costs have made the dream of home ownership unattainable for a large percentage of the population.

Even as we see both sides of the coin about the state of affairs here, one notion binds us together. It is the belief that we all have a place here. We all count. We all deserve to be counted.

This belief matters because on April 1, 2020, the Census will attempt to count every single person in the country. Unfortunately, we know from both history and how the present Census operations are unfolding that not everyone will be counted. An undercount bodes poorly for California. 

An accurate 2020 Census is important to California for a number of reasons. First, an undercount places California at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal funding. In 2015, California received $76 billion dollars in funding for federal assistance programs from housing to education to public entitlements like Medicare based on decennial Census-derived statistics. Second, California is at risk to lose political representation – the state could lose a seat in Congress if there is an undercount. Third, we risk the ability to understand the social, racial, and economic inequities facing our state if the very data we rely on is inaccurate.

We already know some of the greatest challenges to a fair and accurate Census count in California. There are numerous “hard-to-count” communities that live in our state. These communities include low-income residents, people of color, immigrants with limited English proficiency, and very young children. Additionally, there are various national policy challenges facing the Census, ranging from insufficient and delayed federal funding to the national climate of fear being stoked in Washington, D.C. and around the country against immigrants, Muslims, and others.

History has shown us that philanthropy in California can make a difference in addressing these challenges. In 2010, the collective investment from philanthropy of nearly $10 million dollars far exceeded the state of California’s $3 million dollar allocation. Philanthropy’s investment was specifically aimed at increasing the participation of hard-to-count communities.

It worked. While the state overall experienced a lower participation rate between 2010 and 2000, there was a much smaller decline in the hard-to-count communities according to published reports. In some areas of the state, the participation rate of hard-to-count communities experienced an increase in their participation rate from 2010 to 2000.

Because of what is at stake, Philanthropy California, an alliance of Northern California, Southern California and San Diego Grantmakers, is going to be engaging in the Census for the next three years in ways that make sense for their memberships. This will include sharing information, creating educational programs, supporting regional collaborations, and convening diverse stakeholders. We are also partnering with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) to ensure that there is effective and strategic coordination. This year, Philanthropy California will also engage in public policy advocacy efforts on the Census from the state budget to more local/regional action. Lastly, we are working with our national partners, Funders Committee for Civic Participation and Democracy Funders, who have been mobilizing efforts to activate our sector since 2016.

We know that virtually no foundation has a standing Census program. But we also know that virtually all foundations working in California depend on Census data and will be adversely impacted by an inaccurate 2020 Census count. We encourage you to join the efforts that are already under way. There are various opportunities both this year and next to engage, and we hope the conversations can start now.

Together, we can make California an even more inclusive home for all.

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