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Mapping the Hardest to Count Census Tracts


Ahead of the 2020 census, civic leaders and community-based organizations prepared themselves for the toughest census count of our lifetimes.

The California Community Foundation (CCF) rose to the occasion, uniting over 110+ community-based organizations as partners to undertake one of the most robust “Get Out the Count” campaigns in the entire country — the We Count LA campaign. Advancement Project California is the research and data analysis lead as well as the lead convener of the Metro LA Census Table.

We Count LA’s priority focus is to leverage the power of trusted community messengers with in-person tactics to quell residents’ fears and uncertainties around the census. Together, the community-based organizations that make up the campaign stepped up to fight for our neighbors and communities to ensure a fair and accurate count.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, putting a complete halt to the single most effective tactic for census outreach: in-person canvassing and community engagement.

We Count LA and its coalition of partners have been ramping up efforts and pushing hard-hitting tactics to double down on increasing the census response rate across Los Angeles County:

  • Community organizations like SELA Collaborative and Proyecto Pastoral/Promesa Boyle heights are using Advancement Project California’s data to inform which neighborhoods to canvass and which routes to travel along for car caravans.
  • Community canvassers, equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), are hitting the streets of low-response neighborhoods and knocking on the doors of residents to ensure they complete their census forms.
  • New partnerships with street vendors and a new food truck platform, On the Go LA, are turning food vendors placed in low-response neighborhoods into trusted messengers and census ambassadors.
What’s At Stake

For Los Angeles County, the stakes for the 2020 census have never been higher. With more than 10 million diverse residents across 4,000 square miles and 88 cities, the vibrant County of Los Angeles is deemed as the “hardest-to-count” region in the entire nation. We are the region most susceptible to an undercount, which could equate to millions of lost dollars in federal funding for our communities as well as the potential loss of up to two congressional seats.

As the lead data translator for the We Count LA campaign, Advancement Project California maps the hardest to count census tracts in Los Angeles County and tracks progress in communities that have been historically undercounted in the Census. We provide maps and data to all organizations that come together to collaborate and strategize at the We Count LA Census Table.

The Final Push – Making Sure Everyone Counts

Despite deadline extensions of the census self-response period due to the pandemic, recent shifts at the federal level have shortened the completion of the census to September 30, placing a renewed sense of urgency to push residents to complete the census now.

The relaunch of in-person tactics is proving to be effective, with gradual increases in Los Angeles’ response rate over the past few weeks. Person-to-person contact is critical to reaching vulnerable communities and addressing these residents’ fears and uncertainties about privacy, security, and other related concerns. While the curtailed census period presents another challenge, from now until September 30th, our grassroots groups will make thousands of phone calls and texts, canvas hard-to-count areas, and do whatever is needed to ensure our communities are counted.

We Count LA is working diligently to ensure every partner, leader and organization is playing its part in mitigating these fears and pushing Los Angeles through these challenges for an accurate census count.

Impact of COVID-19 and Hard-to-Count Communities
  • 110 of 151 hard-to-count communities have high rates of COVID-19.
  • Throughout the count, harder-to-count communities with higher rates of COVID-19 have been less likely to self-respond to the 2020 Census (on average, five percentage points less likely) than hard-to-count communities with lower rates of COVID-19 (see Figure 1)

  • Community COVID-19 case rates are positively correlated with community hard-to-count (HTC) score.3 This correlation is relatively small (0.34) but statistically significant (p-value < 0.001).
  • Hard-to-count communities hit hardest by COVID have continued to have some of the greatest self-response rate gains week-to-week.

    CBOs in these same hard-to-count communities have been working tirelessly to feed and support their communities throughout the pandemic, and have continued to be deeply involved with census outreach throughout the enumeration.

    Over time, CBOs have boosted self-response in these hard-hit hard-to-count communities.
    By cutting the period of self-response and NRFU (Nonresponse Followup Operation), the Trump administration is depriving these communities of the time they need to get a full and accurate count.

    Progress of Self-Response Rates throughout L.A. County
  • Regions with less hard-to-count census tracts generally started with higher self-response rates than other regions with more hard-to-count census tracts.For example, the region of Santa Clarita (with three hard-to-count census tracts) started with the highest response rate in the county (50.4% on April 8th), while the region of South LA (with 144 hard-to-count census tracts) started with the lowest response rate in the county (33% on April 8th).
  • While some regions started with higher response rates than others, self-response rates across all regions in the county have continued a steady rate of increase.
  • Around mid-May, self-response rate gains across the state (and nation) started to slow down.While the self-response rate gains in many regions started to slow down, hard-to-count regions in Los Angeles County continued to push up their self-response rates and consistently made the greatest self-response rate gains when compared to higher-responding, less hard-to-count regions.While South LA and Northeast/Eastside/East LA started with lower self-response rates, they have consistently had the highest gains in self-response since the mid-May slowdown.
  • From mid-May to the present (August 5th), the greatest self-response rate gain has been in Northeast-Eastside-East LA. The region gained 4.1 percentage points since the start of the response rate slowdown.The second greatest self-response rate gain has been in South LA, which gained 3.9 percentage points during the same period.South Bay East and Southeast LA have also made relatively large self-response rate gains (3.7 and 3.6 percentage points, respectively) since the mid-May slowdown