While the Tri-Valley community's census self-response rates remain above the state and national average, there are still large groups of residents in the region -- roughly 15% to 30% -- who are still unaccounted for, many of whom belong to so-called "hard-to-count populations."
A primary target of census takers throughout the country, hard-to-count populations are classified as such by census officials due to existing barriers. For example, they may be highly mobile, distrustful of government, require language assistance or reside in areas that are just hard to reach.
With the census currently entering the later stages of tabulation, officials and volunteers are working hard to reach these groups because federal funding -- as well as representative boundaries for federal, state and local elected offices -- are directly related to population, and an under-count may result in hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in lost revenue for civic services.
"When you look at the Tri-Valley, a pattern emerges if you know our communities. The slower response areas have a higher Hispanic population and/or multi-unit housings. The higher response area is mainly white middle-class populated areas. If you see the city ranking in California, it is even more evident," Kyoko Takayama, community organizer and Alameda County census ambassador, told the Weekly.
"In Livermore, there are two slow response areas. They have a higher Hispanic/Latino population and/or multi-unit housing. Our lower income population is concentrating in those two areas," she added.
According to the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, hard-to-count populations generally consist of people who are difficult to interview because barriers such as language, low literacy or a lack of internet access hinder participation.
In the Livermore-Pleasanton area, this group is commonly populated by students who are highly mobile and often difficult to locate, low-income residents, Latinx residents, immigrants (documented and undocumented) or people who may have a distrust of the government.
Takayama argued the federal government's previous attempt to ask residents their citizenship status on the census eroded any trust some immigrants may have had in the process, and while the questionnaire does not ask about citizenship, the damage has been done.
"The language barrier does exist but the fear is most prevalent, I think,"Takayama said. "The need is there, but the fear is even greater. The questions over citizenship really really freaked people out and Livermore actually does have a number of undocumented immigrants."
To help visit these groups and others who have simply not responded to their census forms, door-to-door visits from official census takers started in the second week of August, visiting non-responsive residents throughout the Tri-Valley.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, official census workers can be easily identified by their official government badges that include their name, photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. They will also be carrying an official bag with the Census Bureau logo and laptop, smartphone or tablet for conducting the survey and will provide documentation with official bureau letterhead stating why they are visiting.
Census takers are also mandated to provide their supervisor's contact information when requested by a resident.
Door-to-door canvassing will last through the end of September, with final census figures being delivered to President Donald Trump by Dec. 31.
Former State Assembly member Catharine Baker told the Weekly that she completed the census online soon after being prompted earlier this year, knowing the importance of the population count. But she said she recently received multiple in-person visits from census representatives at her home in Dublin, and she advised other residents who find themselves in a similar situation to have a conversation with the census taker explaining the situation.
"They're trying to make sure they get an accurate count and our government benefits from the most accurate information possible. And it's important to participate in the census; just make sure if you are getting a knock on the door from someone that they are aware that you took it already (if you did)," Baker said.
"I thought it was a civic responsibility to do this; it's participating in a constitutional duty that was put in the original Constitution and I encourage everyone to take the census," she added.
Strategic public outreach and connection with various community partners is one of the primary tools in reaching these groups according to census officials, who look to partner with community groups and local governments to reach as many residents as possible.
"We do outreach to create community partners in particular those areas where we know there are hard-to-count populations," Joshua Green, media specialist for the Census Bureau, told the Weekly. "We've been doing lots of outreach with nonprofits, community-based organizations, local governments, anyone who is willing to help us promote the census and make sure that everybody is counted."
"We do that because the message of 'please get counted,' we want to come from local people from what we call trusted messengers and that has been very effective," he added.
When the shelter-in-place occurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, traditional plans and events were for the most part canceled due to large in-person events being prohibited; however, local volunteers have still been working to get the region's numbers up.
To continue to get the word out, Takayama said census volunteers placed census-related posters and fliers at the essential businesses in and around hard-to-count areas, with particular focus on fast food and less-expensive takeout restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations.
Local community partners such as school districts and libraries have also sent out reminders to residents and distribute census information at curbside pickup locations as further ways to put the word out. County officials have offered grocery bags with fliers at small grocery stores and Tri-Valley food pantry.
Phone calls are additionally put into use and recently and more than 1,000 census reminder calls have been made to residents mostly in apartments and multi-unit housing.
Another popular census event in the time of COVID-19 is the car caravan outreach, where census ambassadors and supporters drive through local neighborhoods promoting the census and handing out census goodie bags -- north Livermore held a census car caravan on June 20 hosted by Census La Familia.
"Our last effort was the Mobile Questionnaire Assistance at the Junction K-8 and Robert Livermore Community Center food distribution sites," Takayama said. "We counted three families of 13 people, and it will bring back $13,000 a year to our communities for the next decade. Everyone counts and everyone matters."
Homeless residents also offer particular difficulties for census takers in the Bay Area; however, census officials have been making plans to make sure these residents are likewise included in the count.
"The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced its plan to count people experiencing homelessness between Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, 2020. It was previously scheduled between March 30 and April 1, 2020," said Aparna Madireddi, a member of Contra Costa County's 2020 Census Complete Count Steering Committee.
"It involves census takers counting people at shelters, soup kitchens, regularly scheduled mobile food vans and outdoor locations that were previously identified by the Census Bureau and their partners," she added.
People living in transitory locations -- such as recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds and hotels -- are additionally scheduled to be counted between now and Sept. 28, in Contra Costa County. It was previously scheduled between April 9 and May 4.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of Thursday the self-response rates of residents in Tri-Valley communities are without exception significantly higher than the state and national averages of 67.4% and 65.1%, respectively.
In the Tri-Valley, Danville led the way with 86.3%, followed by Livermore with 81.3%, Pleasanton with 79.8%, San Ramon with 79.7% and Dublin with 77%.
For reference, in 2010 the national mail-in response rate was estimated to be 74% in total.
"Despite COVID-19 and me not able to do any census events or the county unable to do any workshops, the higher numbers are due to the early outreach efforts started last year. However, at this time, with illnesses and job losses, it has been harder to get people to respond as easily," Madireddi said.
For residents who haven't been counted yet, door-to-door visits from census takers have begun but it is still not too late for residents to complete their self-response forms. Self-response to the 2020 U.S. census is currently open through Sept. 30 and can be completed online at my2020census.gov.
Census staff said the questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete and is safe and confidential for respondents.