The 2020 U.S. census is more than just data. It’s our personal story.

Once every 10 years, every one of us has the constitutional right to claim we are here, we count and we have a voice in this country.

a person holding a sign: A volunteer hands out information at a 2020 census outreach and food distribution event in City Heights in March. (JoAnn Fields )

© (JoAnn Fields )
A volunteer hands out information at a 2020 census outreach and food distribution event in City Heights in March. (JoAnn Fields )

By participating in the census, we inform our government on how much funding we need and deserve for health care, education, housing, business, first responders, roads, employment, transportation and congressional representation — every aspect that defines our quality of life is determined by census participation — our data.

In San Diego and Imperial counties, Count Me 2020, built by and for the community, is a coalition working in harder-to-count communities to achieve a complete and accurate 2020 census count. Over the past year and a half, more than 100 local civic and community-based organizations have consistently and effectively worked to lift barriers and motivate the community to participate in the 2020 census.

With targeted and impactful social media campaigns, there has been success — phone banking not only in Spanish but in languages such as Karen, Karenni and Burmese; one-to-one text messaging in the LGBT community; alignment of census messaging and information included at food distribution sites and ethnic grocery stores; and in hygiene kits for our homeless community. This outreach directly from trusted community leaders is the most effective source and has been foundational to our approach.

Our work is now evident as we surpass the 2010 final response rates — we are currently at 70{d05f388fa08f4d675a822acf1486e94712302178bac778b4b99d28e44a90be3a} in San Diego County and 59.1{d05f388fa08f4d675a822acf1486e94712302178bac778b4b99d28e44a90be3a} percent in Imperial County of households responding to the census. We have done great work, but there’s more to do — or we could lose millions in federal funding over the next 10 years, causing drastic impacts to our education, housing, health services and emergency responders.

With funding support from the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office, we have been able to make a big difference in these two counties. At this point in our campaign, we are targeting the hardest-to-count tracts that are simply not responding to the census — 23 in San Diego County and five in Imperial County.

The strategy to focus on the hardest-to-count tracts has worked especially when looking at how historically easier-to-count areas are doing — Del Mar and La Jolla are not responding as well as some of their neighbors.

Due to the recent change in the U.S. Census Bureau timeline — cutting census efforts short to Sept. 30 — we only have 40 days left to motivate households in San Diego and Imperial Counties to take the census form.

To follow up with households that have not yet responded to the census, Census Bureau “takers” started following up with those families in person. These takers visit from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., returning up to six times. At the third attempt, a “proxy” will be sought out to collect information necessary to complete the census.

Ensure every person living in your home is counted properly and accurately — take the census now online at, by phone at (844) 330-2020 or by mail.

Remember the census is more than just data, it’s our personal story to tell. It is our history — our life line to the past and our map to the future.

Silverthorn is the project lead for Count Me 2020 San Diego and Imperial Counties Census Outreach Coalition, administratively led by United Way of San Diego County. She lives in Pine Valley.

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