The census may be, on any given day, the best way to compare huge swaths of society – say, blacks to whites, Oakland’s population to San Francisco’s or children to seniors.

But just now, as census forms arrive in the mail, there’s only one social comparison that matters. And the census is way out of its depth to handle it.

Who will answer the census and who will neglect those 10 questions, essential for deciding how many millions in federal funds come to California over the next decade?

The answers can’t be found at the regional census bureau, but insights were available at the Centro del Pueblo in the Mission District on Friday. All 13 nonprofits spearheading outreach to the city’s hard to count populations were on hand, each with roots in a separate neighborhood, its team of a different skin color, and speaking a different language. Their goal over the next six weeks: to reach 60,000 households of an estimated 100,000 residents who were not counted in the 2000 census.

Lofty, sure, but what is impressive is how studiously these nonprofits are going about courting their targets. Blacks in Bayview, Latinos in Excelsior and Philippinos in SoMA each have their own reasons for not trusting the federal government. Each requires a tailored stump speech delivered in a certain way from a person they might be inclined to trust before they’ll show grandma has been living under the sofa or count their undocumented friend crashing in the basement.

Considering that swaying one resident could mean an additional $3000 for San Francisco, canvassers are unafraid to hit the same house twice, even three times.

While the predominantly black Bayview was the most undercounted section of the city during the last census, Latinos also have their hands full, facing a fully lobby of Hispanic pastors advocating boycotting the census.

This video details the subtle but important ways the battle for an accurate count changes shape from one neighborhood to the next.

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