By Bruce McPherson.
Like many counties throughout California, Santa Cruz County is getting ready for the 2020 Census.
This Census comes at a time when government services play an increasingly important role in our residents’ lives. Housing affordability, stagnant wages and rising poverty all weigh heavily on the prosperity of people in Santa Cruz County. Nearly one-third of our residents now receive County services of some kind.
To fund those services, we depend on state and federal dollars. Our partner cities and community-based organizations recognize this, and we are working with them to reach hard-to-count communities and assure the 2020 Census County is as accurate as possible.
This is no easy task. While much focus during the upcoming count will be on larger population centers, the Census is vitally important to rural counties as well. For example, a 2017 study found that Medi-Cal covers 28 percent of adults and 54 percent of children in California’s rural counties – far higher rates than our urban friends.
Santa Cruz County straddled both world, and has a diverse population profile that places many of our residents at risk of not being counted. That includes a large senior population, an affordability crisis that has led to unusual living arrangements, a significant homeless population, a large university student population and a sizeable immigrant community including many migrant farmworkers, among other recognized hard-to-count populations.
To put a finer point on it, one in five Santa Cruz County residents were born outside the U.S., according to the 2016 American Community Survey, and one in seven are age 65 or older. About 81,000 County residents speak a language other than English at home (30 percent). And we have 35,000 enrolled college students.
Current events have not given us any comfort, and in recent months we have seen a sharp decline in requests for services among immigrant communities, whether they are legal residents or not. The unsettled issue of a citizenship question on the Census could make our challenge even greater, with 20,000 undocumented county residents, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Needless to say, Santa Cruz County shares the concerns of many that we are at risk of an undercount, and are working hard to forge ties with the partners needed to assure the Census is as complete as possible. Without an accurate count, the County’s ability to provide services would be severely undercut.
That is why counties need to take a leadership role in our state’s Complete Count efforts. Each county faces unique circumstances best understood by those elected to advocate on behalf of their communities. The need for effective planning and outreach is great, and getting involved early is the best way to make that happen.
It is time for all of us to stand up and be counted.
Bruce McPherson Represents District 5 on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. He has also served as a California Secretary of State and a State Senator.
Originally posted at the California Association of Counties.