Beverly Hills is lagging far behind in its response rate to the 2020 census compared to its 2010 participation rate and the state’s current 2020 average. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated this year’s census and made it more difficult to conduct in-person outreach. As a result, response rates across the country have suffered compared to their 2010 levels. The population numbers calculated by the census are used in the allocation of government resources and in determining political representation.
As of Sept. 8, Beverly Hills had a self-response rate of 58.2 percent, placing it at 432 out of 482 Californian cities. While Los Angeles County had a self-response rate of 63.2 percent, Beverly Hills still ranks higher than Malibu (40.1 percent) and the City of Los Angeles (56.6 percent). In the 2010 census, 65.8 percent of Beverly Hills residents responded.
The census count has profound implications on both a local and state level. “Information is used to ensure the City receives federal funding (for early childhood education, senior nutritional programs, and more),” Beverly Hills Spokesperson Keith Sterling told the Courier. “The data also determines apportionment in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The 2020 census has repeatedly found itself in the headlines. In March 2018, the Trump Administration added a question to the census that would have asked respondents for their citizenship status. The move immediately faced multiple legal challenges and set off a year-long battle that wound its way to the Supreme Court. There, in June 2019, the Court rejected the Administration’s justification for adding the question, which officials had said was necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Critics, though, argued that the move was designed to depress response rates by minorities and noncitizens in Democratic strongholds.
After the setback in the Supreme Court, Trump turned to his executive authority in July and issued a memorandum that sought to exclude noncitizens from the census count. On Sept. 10, a federal court in New York sided with civil rights organizations in a suit challenging the order.
While census data collection was originally scheduled to end on Aug. 15, Congress granted the Census Bureau an extension until Oct. 31 given the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. But the census found itself the subject of controversy yet again when the Bureau announced it would cease operations at the end of September, citing the Dec. 31 deadline to send the final count to Congress.
Civil rights groups and local governments protesting the move filed multiple lawsuits, and on Sept. 6, a federal judge in Northern California issued a temporary restraining order to stop “winding down or altering any Census field operations.” The TRO will remain in place until the next hearing on Sept. 17.
In response to the flagging numbers and the pending litigation, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the United States Conference of Mayors in urging L.A. and other cities to ramp up counting efforts. “Everybody counts, and we have just three weeks to complete a full and accurate tally of every person in our cities and nation,” said Mayor Garcetti in a statement. “What’s at stake is nothing less than fair representation in Washington D.C. and billions of dollars of investments in the health, welfare, and safety of our communities.”
Echoing Garcetti’s exhortations, Sterling promised the City “will continue to proactively communicate with our residents over the next few weeks as the Census deadline approaches.”
The City has engaged in several different outreach programs to increase participation. Those efforts include the distribution of postcards/posters to the Library, BHUSD schools and at La Cienega and Roxbury Park Community Centers, local churches and synagogues (pre-pandemic). A direct mail postcard was sent out Citywide this summer, encouraging residents to participate and reminding them of the deadline. The City is also running advertisements in local media and posting census information on its social media platforms (including video messages from Mayor Friedman).
Additionally, the City has created a dedicated 2020 Census Website at beverlyhills.org/census.