by Pilar Marrero
Eugenia, 18, lives with her mother, brother, and aunt in a two-bedroom apartment in Cypress Park, just a few miles from downtown Los Angeles. Her son Oliver is 1 year old, and although the young woman didn’t continue studying when she became pregnant in high school, she hopes that her little one will be able to graduate.
“I had to quit, but I hope that this sacrifice will be a good thing for my son,” she explains.
Though the idea of filling out a Census questionnaire makes her nervous, the other day she heard in the news that a local immigrant relief organization was asking for trust and participation.
“I honestly don’t know what it’s all about,” said Eugenia, who didn’t want her last name used for this piece or to pose for photos. “But if they tell me it’s about my son getting a good education in the future, I´ll do it.”
Eugenia and Oliver are likely to need a lot of support: medical care for both (Medical, Healthy Families), SNAP (formerly food stamps), Head Start pre-school programs, schooling for the child when the time comes.
“I honestly don’t know what it’s all about. But if they tell me it’s about my son getting a good education in the future, I´ll do it.”
They are also, however, among the families most at risk of being overlooked in the 2020 Census, the decennial exercise in which the U.S. government counts every person living within the country. The resulting numbers determine how much federal funding each community will get.
In the, 2010 Census, an estimated 2 million of the youngest children like Oliver (under the age of 5) were not counted. This is the hardest age group to count, according to the experts.
Latinos are particularly vulnerable. According to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, NALEO, about 36% of the children overlooked in the last Census were Latino, even though they are only 26% of the population. Many of the missed children live in the country’s most populous counties, especially in California. In Los Angeles County alone, 47,000 young children were not counted.
The reasons are diverse.
“A complex family structure where there are several families in the same household is an important factor,” explained Professor Edward Flores, a sociologist at the University of California at Merced.
“When I was newly married, I lived at my parents’ house with my wife before having my twins. It was easy to imagine my parents not including us in the Census because it wasn’t our home,” explains the professor.
Census studies indicate that there is confusion when it comes to filling out the Census. “People don’t know that they have to list every person living in their household.”
The particular vulnerability of young children to not be counted often has to do with their parents’ youth, adds Flores.
as stable as they would be later,” he said.
Confusion also occurs in multi-generational homes, and in ones where unmarried couples or people who are not family or are distant relatives reside. Latino, African-American and Native American children are more likely to live in this type of home than white children.
The next Census is a year away, but already there is alarm in California, and in Los Angeles in particular, that the undercount of small children could be particularly serious due to a variety of factors, including the minority communities’ fear and mistrust of the government.
In addition to a projected undercount of children, Los Angeles County also is considered the “hardest county to count” in the country, as is the city of Los Angeles.
María García is the 2020 Census director for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, explained in an interview that both the city and the county, school districts and about 400 community organizations are involved in efforts to count as many people as possible.
“One of the first things we did was a local update of Census addresses to make sure what they have is accurate. We identified 400,000 addresses for them to add,” García said. “In Los Angeles we have very unique living quarters.”
The Census Bureau this year has one specific committee dedicated to count young children.
LA City’s García shared that federal officials plan, among other things, to “include more language in the questionnaire to inform that babies and children need to be counted.”
The issue is so critical for the outcome in some communities that NGO´s have designed specific campaigns to count children. On April 30, Children’s Day, the National Association of Latino Officials (NALEO) launched “Hazme Contar,” focused specifically on including Latino children up to age 5.
“We are developing many informational resources for parents, such as postcards and pens. We’re going to make charts for schools to talk about the types of families that exist: ‘I live with my grandmother,’ ‘I live with my mom and her friend,’ for example,” Escobedo said.
Apart from disinformation, fear could be an especially serious problem this time. Census pilot studies found a lot of mistrust in the immigrant community towards the idea of sharing personal information in a government questionnaire, particularly if the citizenship question is added.
“With this particular president, people are very afraid of giving information to the government,” acknowledges Janet Mendez, a Lincoln Heights resident and mother of four. She didn’t participate in the 2010 Census, but now that her children are older and she has DACA protection, she thinks differently.
“I’ve been getting information, and I think it’s too important because of the resources that go into the community,” said Mendez, who previously lived in the almost entirely Latino city of Huntington Park. “I don’t remember anyone knocking on my door to tell me about the Census. But I hope next year will be different.”
Pilar Marrero is a Journalist with La Opinión and this article reprinted with permission by Ethnic Media Services.
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