Next year at this time Kern County is expected to have a population of about 931,000. But its official population — the number of people who actually get counted — will be about 888,000. That's a difference of 43,000 people. And, potentially, a difference of a lot of money.
That expensive discrepancy shows up in a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California, "The 2020 Census and Political Representation in California," which sought to determine how the state's population growth relative to that of other states, weighed against potential undercount factors, will affect California's number of congressional representatives.
The study's verdict in that regard: California will keep growing, but not enough to add to its number of congressfolk — 53 and holding, the largest delegation in the country.
That is, unless the state's population is drastically undercounted. And, says the PPIC, it will indeed be undercounted. By how much is the question.
The study's authors, Eric McGhee, Sara Bohn and Tess Thorman, estimate that Kern County's population will be undercounted by 4.6 percent, the ninth-highest percentage in California. (The study broke down the state into 43 counties and small-county clusters). That percentage is based on Kern County's true projected population (930,885) compared to its projected counted population (887,988).
Of course, population count doesn't just determine the size of a state's congressional delegation. Census numbers determine how federal dollars are apportioned in many ways, and the formula is basically straightforward: The more people the census can find and count, the more money your region gets for programs, services and projects of importance.
"In general, there are federal dollars that are tied to county funding " Thomas Brown, Kern County's economic development director, told me Tuesday afternoon, just after the study's release. "If you're undercounted, you're probably underfunded."
So Brown couldn't have been pleased to hear that researchers are expecting a fairly substantial undercount here; he has been working with county agencies, community based organizations and others to maximize the count.
One of the biggest issues they've encountered is also a challenge cited prominently by the PPI study's authors: Efforts by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census form are likely to reduce the number of undocumented residents willing to participate. They're afraid their honest response to could lead to deportation.
But getting shortchanged because the Census Bureau is asking citizenship questions that undocumented immigrants don't want to answer doesn't hurt those who are here illegally; it hurts everyone of all social strata, but especially the poor, of which Kern has a disproportionate share.
Census-derived dollars fund cities, counties, school districts, universities and other entities. They pay for things like Health and Human Services' medical assistance programs, the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare Part B physicians' fees, highway planning and construction, the Federal Pell Grant program, the National School Lunch Program, Section 8 housing vouchers, and the Head Start program. And the list goes on; it's a long one.
The LUCA operation that Brown is working with — that's the Local Update of Census Addresses operation — has done effective work already. They've added 2,000 new addresses to the census rolls, deleted 150 addresses that were out of date, and made 1,000 corrections.
"Some pretty decent numbers," Brown said.
Those numbers are the product of some hard work. With 14 months to go before 2020, plenty of work remains. A lot of money is riding on it.