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California Focus Opinion

California Focus: Census could help state in slow-growth era

There is no doubt this is a slow-growth era for California, historically the center of fast American population expansion. In excess of 200,000 more individuals moved from California to other states over the last 10 years than arrived here legally from elsewhere in this country.

Growth will be even slower in the immediate wake of the coronavirus crisis, which has also brought this state’s economy to a virtual standstill.

Meanwhile, live births and undocumented immigration more than made up for the migration deficit, with California actually gaining about 1.3 million residents over the last decade and now very close to a populace of 40 million.

That’s the smallest growth rate for California since officials started keeping figures around 1950. It could cost the state one of its 53 seats in the House of Representatives if the U.S. Census Bureau verifies these figures via its supposedly comprehensive survey this spring and summer.

The census measure of population occurs every 10 years; it actually began in February in a remote Inuit village in Alaska. The count moved to the continental United States in March, but anti-coronavirus tactics brought it to a virtual standstill, with door-to-door canvassers furloughed.

There were indications Californians thought more about politics than usual around the time of the March 3 primary election. Had that been sustained, it promised to help the state, especially if Californians took seriously the possibility of losing not just one, but two congressional seats should the count come in below expectations. The virus quickly broke any such trains of thought.

But it’s not only representation in the Capitol at stake in this canvass. The size of federal grants for highways, sewers, health care, welfare, fire and police protection and even fishery maintenance, among many other things, hinges on census population findings.

No one ever seriously questioned the integrity of census counts until this year, when President Trump and his appointees tried to insert a citizenship question into the census questionnaire in a plain attempt to scare off undocumented immigrants fearful their information would not be kept confidential, as the law requires.

The U.S. Supreme Court actually concluded fear arousal was the Trump motive for pushing the citizenship question, and the high court nixed it.

When things get going in earnest, this should help census takers motivate illegal immigrants to get counted, vital because the Constitution mandates a complete tally of every human being in the nation, not just citizens.

California’s officials will have no direct role in the tally, but long before the federal government began hiring more than 25,000 temporary workers to do its job here, the state earmarked over $180 million to encourage all Californians to get counted. Much of the money went to Latino community organizations promising to get word to their clients and members that it’s OK — even good for them — to participate.

That would certainly be good for California, home to about one-third of all undocumented immigrants now living in this country.

But other states — most notably the No. 2 and No. 3 population states of Texas and Florida — are making no similar effort. That non-effort includes 24 states, virtually all controlled by Republican governors and GOP-dominated legislatures.

Republicans in Texas, Florida and some others don’t want their counts maximized by encouraging the undocumented to participate. They fear a complete count could set up new congressional districts in heavily Latino areas that might turn their legislatures and congressional delegations Democratic.

This contrast in how states are treating the census count has great potential for California. The fewer persons counted in other places, the more representation and federal funding comes here.

The contrast in how states are handling the census reveals strong fears held by the current leaders of many states over their new and undocumented residents. One Latino member of the Texas Legislature opined that his state’s voting not to spend anything for promoting the census shows that Republicans in charge there “are concerned if you have a more accurate count, it would put them at a disadvantage.”

That’s likely correct, and now only time and the count will tell how much the GOP’s fears might help California.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].