COVID-19 affects census participation among college students

Sakura Cannestra/Staff

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Adding to the list of events upended by COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, is participation in the 2020 census — particularly among college students.

Efforts by city officials and ASUC personnel to encourage students to fill out the census have largely been derailed by the pandemic, with students vacating their Berkeley housing and moving home. On April 1 — Census Day — the self-response rate in several areas of Alameda County hovered between 23.6% and 29.1%, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Casey Farmer, Alameda County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee executive director, said for every Californian who is counted in the census, $10,000 in federal funding is brought back to their community. Most of that money goes toward public education and social services.

“It’s not just a questionnaire,” Farmer said. “It is our political power and federal funding for resources for the next decade.”

Naomi Garcia, census committee director for the ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s office, said they had planned discussions with campus community leaders that have since been moved online, but outreach efforts such as tabling had to be canceled.

Garcia added that students often confuse filling out the census with voter registration, but emphasized that the two are not the same. Using a student’s home address in their census submission results in a miscount, or an inaccurate representation of the population that normally resides in Berkeley.

“We’re using their resources, we’re contributing to the housing crisis,” Garcia said. “The least we can do is fill out the census with our addresses here in Berkeley.”

Students who lived in campus housing will be counted by UC Berkeley, while students who live in off-campus housing must self-report where they would normally be living as of April 1, according to deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau Jeffrey Enos.

Enos added that the census count determines the apportionment of congressional representatives for each state, which, if inaccurate, could adversely impact California’s representation in the House. Voting and school district boundaries are also determined by census data.

“A college student being missed, that can have long term effects on the power and representation that the community has,” Enos said.

Enos added that census records are protected and cannot be shared with any federal, state or local government entities, including immigration authorities or the IRS.

The deadline to complete the census is August 14, according to Farmer. People can either submit responses online, by mail or by phone.

“We need for people to remember that this only happens every 10 years,” Farmer said. “We don’t get to do it over again after the deadline.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.