Conflicting information about census count deadline confuses San Diego advocates

A truck recently helped publicize census in National City.
A truck with an LED display helped lead the Count Me 2020 caravan around National City to encourage participation in the 2020 Census.
(Kristian Carreon / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Advocates and community organizers are concerned and confused about recent statements from Census Bureau officials indicating they may soon stop the most labor-intensive part of taking the census in San Diego.

Last month a census official said door-knocking operations in the San Diego area would end Sept. 18 — 12 days earlier than the Sept. 30 deadline to complete the 2020 Census.

“We hope all of our workload will be complete and there will not be any more enumerators out on the street,” said Roberto Garcia, a census partnership specialist in San Diego, during an online meeting with census outreach organizations on Aug. 19.

Enumerators are Census workers who knock on doors and do follow-up interviews with households that have not filled out census paperwork online or by phone.

The end date for all data collection — for self-response and nonresponse, in-person follow ups by census takers — is Sept. 30, said David Bennett, media specialist with the Census Bureau, in an email Tuesday. Some census offices are on track to complete such follow-up work earlier than Sept. 30.

Since the first week August, roughly 2,000 census takers have visited households in San Diego County, Bennett said.

Census data influence how much federal money communities get for schools, health centers, roads and other programs. They also dictate how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes are given to each state.


Some areas in San Diego County are closer to completing the census than others.

The census office in North County — which encompasses the cities of Oceanside, Encinitas, San Marcos and Fallbrook — reported that 82% of its workload was complete.

The East County census office — which includes El Cajon, Ramona, Spring Valley and other rural and unincorporated areas of the county — reported its workload was 69.6% complete.

And the San Diego office — which includes the City of San Diego, National City, Coronado and Chula Vista — reported its workload was 63.6% finished.

Nationally, the Census Bureau reported that about 80% of American households have been counted as of Friday, including 84% in California. That includes people who submitted responses and census taker in-person interviews.

In some San Diego County neighborhoods, nearly every household has filled out a census form, while many others, including suburban and rural areas, show lower than average response rates in the county, self-response census data from Aug. 25 show.

News about ending door-knocking early frustrated community advocates, who said this week that they need more support — not less — from the Census Bureau to encourage San Diego residents to complete the census, especially among hard-to-count populations.

“We need every opportunity we can get,” said Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez, co-director of the nonprofit Universidad Popular, as she volunteered in a food distribution event at Pauma while promoting the census on the reservation.

“These areas, they will be relying heavily on enumerators because they don’t have traditional addresses,” she said of reservations. “So it’s really important that (enumerators) have all the time that they need to go door-to-door in the rural communities.”

She said community advocates had been expecting census operations to continue through the end of October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead the deadline was shortened to Sept. 30, giving community organizations and census workers less time to reach certain groups.

Similarly Michele Silverthorn, project leader with Count Me 2020, a coalition of nonprofits focused on the census, said she is not expecting any support from the local U.S. Census Bureau offices or staff after Sept. 18 — even though the deadline remains Sept. 30.

“Our partners are continuing their outreach work and will continue to safely educate and encourage census completion through door drops, safe canvassing, informational tables at distribution events, caravans, text and phone banking and more,” Silverthorn said in an email Tuesday.

The census did not respond to questions Tuesday about what, if any support, will be available after Sept. 18.

Lopez-Villafaña writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.