Newsletter: Coronavirus puts California’s census effort at risk

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Much has been written about the high stakes involved in this year’s census and rightly so: The once-a-decade national population tally is a key building block for drawing political maps and for fairly allocating billions of dollars in federal aid.

The census was already going to be a tough one by the time spring arrived, after months of wrangling over a failed attempt at adding a citizenship question and a first-ever reliance on the internet for collecting responses.

And then came the coronavirus crisis.

Census worries, COVID-19 complications

Six months into the decennial census, almost 63% of California households have responded to the questionnaires seeking information on family members, age, race and ethnicity. That puts the state, according to the Census Bureau, almost in the middle of other states in terms of current participation.

But a team of researchers from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California notes that number is lagging the state’s final response rate in 2010 — and that was during a census that, for political and public health reasons, was easier to conduct. The lack of data collected through the self-service model of an online questionnaire puts a lot of pressure on closing the information gap by census takers canvassing neighborhoods and hoping someone answers the door.


“Lower self-response now makes it likely that in-person outreach will carry more of the burden to ensure everyone gets counted, and in-person counting will likely be more complex than in the days before the pandemic,” the PPIC researchers wrote.

Rural California counties have the lowest response rates so far, but also trailing the statewide average are counties such as Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino. Valley counties such as Kern and Fresno also are below average. In these places and others, communities of color are at risk of being undercounted by a little or a lot once the census is complete.

The warning signs are more pronounced by census tract, the small partitions that often hew to individual neighborhoods. “In parts of central Los Angeles where most residents are renters, the response rate is as low as 11.6%,” the PPIC report notes.

COVID-19 rates in some of these communities could present a historic high hurdle for in-person census efforts. California state government has invested heavily in a public outreach campaign, and the work will only get harder once the self-response period for the census ends in mid-August.

“The COVID-19 crisis has upended the carefully laid plans for the 2020 census in ways that might have disproportionate effects on California’s count,” PPIC researcher Eric McGhee wrote at the outset of the pandemic. “The Census Bureau is making important adjustments, but California needs to be particularly vigilant about the potential consequences.”

Tulsa’s lukewarm reception

There were so many storylines out of President Trump‘s rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday. The crowd size, the incendiary remarks about the coronavirus and his Democratic presidential rival, the fact that some campaign staffers tested positive for COVID-19 before the event began.

But perhaps all of that is what stands out most: the lack of a single, unifying theme about his presidency or about why he should be reelected in November.


Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who leads a super PAC that backs Trump’s reelection, said it was a bad idea for the campaign to stage a rally with the coronavirus still spreading unchecked. The campaign’s failure to meet its own crowd expectations was a worrisome sign about its competence, he added.

“Any time you put on a show and you get bad press out of it, that’s not a good strategy,” Rollins said.

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National lightning round

— Teenagers, TikTok users and Korean pop music fans may have trolled Trump’s rally by scooping up tickets and not using them.

— Infectious disease experts expressed alarm Sunday over the pace of new coronavirus infections in several states in the South and Southwest, with one likening the spread in parts of the country to a “forest fire.”

— Trump on Saturday fired a top federal prosecutor who has overseen sensitive investigations into the president’s allies, taking aim at yet another government official who has exposed misdeeds of the president’s administration.

— A federal judge has ruled that former national security advisor John Bolton can move forward in publishing his tell-all book.

Essential California politics

— California’s poorest seniors can’t access Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s new program providing three meals a day during the pandemic.

— Newsom is urging Californians to heed his new order requiring most residents to wear face coverings in public to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, noting that violators could face enforcement action.

— As a Los Angeles City Hall corruption probe zeroes in on Councilman Jose Huizar, filings raise questions about whether his wife, Richelle Huizar, could be called to testify.

— Despite new anti-eviction rules passed in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, some Los Angeles landlords are still trying to oust tenants by locking them out of their homes.

— A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a California law that barred internet sites from disclosing the ages of screen actors.

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