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Everyone Counts: Why the 2020 Census Matters

Richard Tate

It’s official: A citizenship question will not be included on the 2020 census because the Supreme Court and federal judges in New York and Maryland have blocked the inclusion of the question. This  is great news for anyone who cares about the health and wellness of our country.

A citizenship question would have discouraged participation by people who should be counted. Unfortunately, even proposing the question has added fuel to the fires of fear and doubt raging through many immigrant communities. For Californians, the potential damage could be devastating. An undercount of immigrants would negatively impact our communities in many ways. Even as we celebrate a victory, we need to continue to focus on ways we can make the 2020 census count be as fair and accurate as possible.

What’s at Stake

Every 10 years, the U.S. sets out to count every one of us who lives here through a national census. The data collected is used to decide how much federal money is provided to each state and to determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. This means that the census count dictates dollars for services and programs that benefit all Californians—including health care, transportation, housing, education, and infrastructure projects—and impacts decision-making on policy issues that will impact the people of our state and our nation.

But why do we care as a private health foundation? Our vision is for every resident of California to enjoy good health and experience wellness. To achieve that, we make grants and work with partners across sectors to increase access to health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. Though our grant dollars make a difference, it’s federal dollars that make up the vast majority of the funding for programs that serve those needs. And the more people in our state who are not counted in the census, the more California stands to lose in federal funding for programs that support our health and wellness.

To be clear, the process is never perfect. Every census cycle, millions of people in our country are not counted. Here are the sobering facts:

  • Over 4 million people nationwide are at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census, according to projections by the Urban Institute.
  • A recent Census Bureau research report found that the addition of a citizenship question would be likely to reduce responses of non-citizen households by 8 percent, higher than the bureau's previous estimate of 5.8 percent.
  • Approximately 29 million Californians belong to one or more groups that the census has historically undercounted, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, including African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Native Americans, low-income communities, children, and those who are homeless.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Blocking the addition of a citizenship question to the census is a win, but the fight for a fair and accurate count must continue. In California, our state government plans to invest at least $90 million in efforts to boost participation, up from the $25 million invested in the 2010 census. And foundations are also playing an important role. Statewide funders such as the James Irvine Foundation and The California Endowment and regional funders such as the Weingart Foundation are making investments to support full-community participation. At Cal Wellness, we’re partnered with organizations including Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, which is coordinating philanthropic efforts to reach hard-to-count populations.

If you’re a funder, it’s hard to imagine the outcome of the 2020 census won’t impact the issues you care about and the communities you serve. Now is the time to support advocates and organizers who are working to make sure we count as many people as possible and to lend your voice to the cause.

And even if you’re not a funder, there’s a role for all of us to play. Here are few ways you can support a fair and accurate count:

  • Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc., and let them know how important the census is to California and to our collective health and wellness.
  • Get involved in organizations that are working toward census participation. Visit for more information.

Though the threat of a citizenship question appears to have been thwarted, we still have work to do to ensure that all people are counted. There’s simply too much at stake.

Richard Tate image
Vice President of Public Affairs Richard Tate

Richard Tate leads a multidisciplinary team responsible for the foundation’s communications, community relations and public policy activities.

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