November 3, 2021

Last year, minority advocates representing multiple backgrounds called for people to partake in the 2020 census. Many of them feared that if undercounted, minorities would lose or miss out on funding. Lack of representation and participation in the census leads to a lack of funding or programming available for communities for an entire decade. Census totals are used to determine funding amounts for both local and state governments; without accurate numbers, funding cannot be distributed adequately. While not as “dire as some had feared,” that concern is now a reality.

According to a research report by the Urban Institute, the 2020 census—which cost approximately $14.2 billion—likely undercounted people of color at higher rates than previous censuses. The report, released Tuesday, notes that while the Census Bureau may have continued to overcount people who identified as white and not Latino, it likely failed to count nearly 2.5 million people in other racial and ethnic groups.

“Overall, these data show that some communities and their residents will be shortchanged for the next decade due to an incomplete count,” the report’s chief author, Diana Elliott, told reporters Tuesday.

The Urban Institute estimates that nationwide, the net undercount rates by race or ethnicity were highest for Black people, followed by Latino people and Pacific Islanders. The report also found that the 2020 count could be the largest miscount of the true U.S. population in 30 years.

According to NPR, the think tank’s method for calculating population accuracy is different from what the Census Bureau uses. Researchers with the Urban Institute used census participation rates, national survey results, and other data to simulate results of last year's national head count. The Urban Institute’s figures also come months before the bureau’s estimates of any undercounts from a follow-up survey.

The undercounts were most concentrated in major cities with high minority populations, including Miami, Los Angeles, and Houston.

Arturo Vargas, chief executive of NALEO Educational Fund, told The Washington Post this was not surprising due to the Trump administration’s efforts to silence and erase those communities.

“There was a definite undercount of immigrant cities, and I will argue that that was one of the goals of the Trump administration — to make immigrants invisible or nonexistent, and by not counting them, that was one way to do that,” he said.

Minorities often go undercounted in the U.S. census, but advocates feared a higher undercount because researchers found a multitude of obstacles that could lead to one, Daily Kos reported. In 2019, the Trump administration campaigned to include a controversial citizenship question on the 2020 census, which asked, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

The question raised concerns that undocumented immigrants would not participate in the census should such a question be included. The Supreme Court later ruled against including the question on census forms, yet other misinformation about the census continued to spread during the Trump administration. 

Because the census has great implications for community resources, advocates fear the long-term implications of the undercount. Not only is the census used for funding, but for redrawing voting districts and reallocating both the seats in Congress and the Electoral College votes for presidential elections. Researchers believe undercounts can skew congressional representation as well as the distribution of more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds guided by census results annually.

This is a concern because populations who are most vulnerable often are misrepresented in the count and programs to help aid them are often specifically designed based on the census. These households are more likely to be living under the poverty line and often have difficulty accessing child care and job training.

The National Urban League sued to try to stop the Trump administration from ending counting early last year and has recently called for congressional hearings into how the administration's interference with the 2020 census "could rob" fair political representation from communities where Black people live. According to The Los Angeles Times, in addition to billions of dollars in federal funding, Black residents could lose up to three congressional seats. 

In a statement, the Census Bureau acknowledged the importance of reports examining the accuracy of the 2020 census: "The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes the importance of accuracy for the 2020 Census," the bureau said in a statement. It referenced the release of results from the Post-Enumeration Survey (PES), as well as Demographic Analysis (DA) estimates based on government records. "Once we have these results for DA and the PES, we will be able to better understand the full coverage measurement patterns of the 2020 Census."

This means the official undercount or overcount of the census won’t be known until next year when the Census Bureau releases a report card on its accuracy. Additionally, the Census Bureau will hold a meeting of its National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations this week. It plans to not only provide updates on the quality of the count and future plans but discuss potential undercounts of vulnerable populations.

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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