Why San Francisco has done such a bad job in Census response rate?

San Francisco’s Census response rate is far lower than the neighboring counties. (Photo: 2020Census.gov)

Editor’s note: The 2020 Census results will determine the future congress representation, legislative district redraw, and government funding. The World Journal is partnering with Ethnic Media Services(EMS) to collect Census-related questions from the public, interview experts, and summarize into this “Census Q&A” column, solving all confusions in a question-and-answer format. This is the eighth issue of this column.

Q: It’s been two months since the Census started. How’s the public responding to it?
A: On May 27, about 60.2% of the U.S. household addresses already have records of completion of the census questionnaire, either by phone call, online, or paper questionnaire. In California, the response rate is slightly higher, reaching 61.3%.

Q: What about the Bay Area? I heard that the response rate in San Francisco is particularly low?
A: Among the nine counties in the Bay Area, eight of them are doing a better job showing a higher rate than the California average. Only San Francisco County is an exception. The current response rate of San Francisco is only 58.3%, which is lower than the California average and far below the neighboring San Mateo County (70.9%), Santa Clara County (69.8%), Alameda County (67.2%), Contra Costa County (69.7%) and Marin County (67.9%).

Q: Why San Francisco has done such a bad job?
A: There is no official explanation but some preliminary assumptions.

One possible reason is that San Francisco is a major metropolitan area with a significant “floating” population, such as college students, international students, work visa immigrants, and people who live and work in the city but may come and go to other places. So these groups of people may have left San Francisco because of the pandemic. For example, international students may return to their home country; many people who used to study or work locally in San Francisco also may return to their parents’ house outside of San Francisco to continue to study and work remotely.

The students from two major local universities, SF State and USF, account for 4.5% of the city’s population. Some argue that the rate would be above the statewide average if they were fully counted. But the students now are scattered all over the place and probably don’t have the information they need to fill out the Census. They should not be counted at their parents' house addresses.

Another possible reason is San Francisco has a large number of immigrant residents, and the cultural, language barriers may also contribute to a lower rate of participation.

Q: I left San Francisco, but my official registered address is in San Francisco. What should I do?
A: If the person is not currently living in San Francisco, the person will not receive the invitation letter with the unique code sent to that San Francisco address by the Census Bureau. However, the person can still fill in the form by log in to the Census website and type in the San Francisco address. The person should answer the question based on the presumed residence situation on April 1(where you would have been on April 1 if the shelter-in-place had not occurred two weeks before). If you are outside of the U.S., you cannot fill out the questionnaire online, which means you cannot be counted.

Q: Any action from the Census Bureau to raise San Francisco’s response rate?
A: The World Journal learned that the Census Bureau has been in contact with many community organizations in San Francisco, including some elderly serving, single-room-occupancy(SRO) housing, and immigration-related nonprofits, and will make special efforts to count the hard-to-count groups. Details will be released soon.

If any organizations in San Francisco which serve hard-to-count groups and want to cooperate with the Census Bureau, they can contact us: census@chinesenews.com.


The Chinese language version of the story appeared on the World Journal on May 30, 2020.

Bilingual journalist. San Francisco-based.