The Importance of the 2020 Census

While presidential candidates and politicians are gearing up for the next big election in 2020, leaders and advocates here in California are also gearing up for another event with similarly massive implications for the people: the 2020 Census Count. Our elected leaders have begun to prioritize this project, and together with them, we must all seek to gain a better understanding of its importance and the significant stakes for our state and our diverse communities.

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau undertakes a mammoth task – counting everyone living in the United States and recording basic information such as age, gender, and race. The United States’ founders believe this datato be so important, they mandated it as part of the Constitution.

The information collected from the decennial census count affects all of our lives for the next 10 years in several ways. First, the data is used to reapportion the 435 U.S. House seats. States with growing populations could win additional seats, and states with fewer people would lose Representatives in Congress. In 2010, when California did not make significant investments in educating our residents about the census count, it was the first time in our state’s history that we did not gain a seat. In 2020, we could actually lose a seat – and with it, power in Congress – if all of our residents are not accurately counted.

The census is also used to allocate more than $675 billion in federal, state and local programs – including health care and hospitals, community centers, educational programs and school meals, housing, roads, and more. California, and all of its communities, could lose out on millions of dollars for critical services.

This 2020 census count also presents unique challenges for immigrant communities. According to a recent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California, rhetoric by some in Washington and actions around border security, deportation, and immigrant rights have raised concerns among immigrant communities, even for immigrants legally in the United States. This concern has also been exacerbated since the Department of Commerce approved adding a question regarding one’s citizenship status to the 2020 census.Simply said, if immigrant families are too scared to hand over their personal information, the Census Bureau will receive incomplete data from California.

Like every California community, the Filipino community stands to lose a lot if not accurately counted. As of 2011, California is home to 45% of all Filipino immigrants to the United States. California has nearly 1.5 million Filipinos, with Los Angeles County alone accounting for nearly 375,000and the San Francisco Bay Area with over 320,000 people of Filipino decent.

The bottom line is that California is the most populous and diverse state in the country, and so Californians have the most to lose.

I applaud both our previous Governor Jerry Brown, and now our current Governor Gavin Newsom for committing significant resources to raising awareness about this important event. Governor Brown committed more than $90 million, and Governor Newsom has proposed an additional $54 million towards outreach efforts. A significant portion of that new money is allocated for media in California – money for newspapers, television and radio stations, as well newer emerging platforms in the increasingly digital media environment. California’s census leaders have indicated they will prioritize funding for news outlets like this one, ethnic news media that understand the nuances and unique natures of California’s most diverse and vulnerable audiences.

This line of thinking is evidence that our leaders understand not only the critical nature of the 2020 count, but also the resources it will take to ensure everyone else does also. Ultimately, it will be up to all of us – our elected and appointed leaders, our community advocates and communications professional, and our friends, family members and neighbors – to make this a priority conversation for Californians in the months leading up to 2020, and then to channel those learnings and knowledge into a feeling of empowerment so that we can all be emboldened to fill out our forms, and make sure every single Californian is counted.



Adam Keigwin is Managing Director in the Sacramento office of Mercury Public Affairs (