Areas in Los Angeles County that have the lowest response rates to the 2020 Census also have some of the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which may complicate the county’s efforts to increase responses, according to a report released Tuesday by UCLA.
The 2020 census response rates are on average 29% lower than the 2010 response rates in lower-income areas in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, a majority of South Los Angeles, the Harbor area and Van Nuys, according to UCLA researchers Paul Ong, Jonathan Ong and Elena Ong.
Responses in both Los Angeles County and the nation as a whole are about 11% behind compared to the 2010 census.
Researchers compared the census data to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s data on COVID-19 cases and found that the same areas also have some of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases.
The census is in its “self-reporting phase,” where the Census Bureau encourages everyone to participate on their own.
Starting Oct. 31 — originally July 31 — census takers are scheduled to conduct in-person interviews in low-response neighborhoods in an attempt to increase responses, according to the researchers.
It is unclear if face-to-face interviews will be able to safely occur in 2020, especially in areas with high rates of COVID-19.
“As things stand now, the only way to prevent an extreme undercount in some areas of the county would be for a horde of in-person census takers to descend on parts of the city with the greatest chance of coronavirus transmission,” said Paul Ong, the director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and founder of Ong and Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm that specializes in public interest issues.
“Given the ongoing health concerns, it remains to be seen whether in-person interviews will even be viable during the current census.”
There is an unprecedented challenge to fully complete the 2020 count in Los Angeles County, and the pandemic is only one factor, according to Ong.
Other contributing factors include language and cultural barriers and the census’ shift toward online completion, while internet access remains a barrier for many people in lower-income areas, Ong said.
The UCLA study urges Los Angeles County officials to take action to increase responses to the census.
“It is critical to quickly understand what is happening on the ground so adjustments can be made rapidly,” the study states.
“The amount of time left to fairly and accurately complete the 2020 census is very short, too short to wait for the normal slow institutional turnaround time.”
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