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Supe warns of undercount consequence in upcoming census town hall

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City of Albany
City of Albany, Calif. official seal.

The stakes will be high for Alameda County when the 2020 census is conducted next spring and the office of county Supervisor Keith Carson is doing outreach early to promote participation.

Carson will discuss the census and the challenges involved at Alameda County Counts, a Census 2020 Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Albany Senior Center at 846 Masonic Ave.

The event is one in a series being hosted by Carson in communities in District 5, which includes Albany, Piedmont, Berkeley and parts of Oakland.

Final census figures will determine federal and state funding that comes to the area over the next decade for such needs as transportation, housing and health care, Carson said, noting that 60 percent of Alameda County’s revenue comes from federal and state sources.

Population figures also determine federal and state elected representation, which could shrink if the count is not complete. The county estimates that each person not counted results in an annual funding loss of $1,000, and that an undercount of 6 percent would translate to $1 billion less in allocations over the ensuing decade. The national tally, held every 10 years starting with the inaugural census in 1790, will be transitioning from the traditional paper forms.

It is expected that 60 percent of respondents will fill out and submit their forms online using a 16-digit PIN or a QR code. But where such a system would normally be put through at least three dry run tests, the Census Bureau has conducted only one “dress rehearsal,” according to Carson’s office.

The expectation of digital participation has in turn led to a reduction in the number of field personnel, and “staff will only make half as many visits to each home” than was done in 2010, according to Carson’s office.

The county estimates that more than 26 percent of its population, an estimated 413,000 residents, falls in the classification of hard-to-count, including a growing number living in tents, cars or RVs due to the region’s housing crisis.

Students at University of California at Berkeley and other college campuses are another population that can be difficult to count accurately, as well as those in group homes, co-ops and institutions.

What’s categorized as the “fear factor” is expected to be another major challenge, including concerns about data privacy, distrust of government, and the well-publicized attempt by President Donald Trump to include a citizenship status question on the form.

The presentation cited a forecast by the federal Government Accountability Office that self-response to the census will decrease by 17 percent.

Language is yet another challenge. There are 220 languages spoken in California, while the questionnaire will be available in 13 languages, with video guides and glossaries offered for 59 languages.

To register for the Albany town hall, people can visit
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/census-2020-town-hall-for-albany-tickets-71443831423.

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