Census 2020

Black, Hispanic, Indigenous People Were Undercounted in 2020 Census

Any undercounts in various populations can shortchange the amount of funding and political representation they get over the next decade

Man Canvassing Door to Door for the 2020 Census
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The 2020 census missed an unexpectedly small percentage of the total U.S. population given the unprecedented challenges it faced, but Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents were overlooked at higher rates than a decade ago, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

The percentage of people overlooked during the 2020 census was much higher for some minority groups, the Census Bureau said in a report that measured how well the once-a-decade head count tallied every U.S. resident and whether certain populations were undercounted or overrepresented in the count. Overcounts take place, for example, if someone owns a vacation home and is counted there as well as at a home address.

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, blamed political interference by the Trump administration, which tried unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census form and cut field operations short.

“These numbers are devastating. Once again, we see an overcount of white Americans and an undercount of Black and Hispanic Americans," Morial said on a call with reporters. “I want to express in the strongest possible terms our outrage."

The Black population in the 2020 census had a net undercount of 3.3%, while it was almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Alaskans living on reservations. The non-Hispanic white population had a net overcount of 1.6%, and Asians had a net overcount of 2.6%, according to one of the reports.

In the 2010 census, by comparison, the Black population had a net undercount of more than 2%, while it was 1.5% for the Hispanic population. There was almost a 4.9% undercount for American Indian and Alaskan Natives living on reservations, and it was 0.08% for Asians. The non-Hispanic white population had a net overcount of 0.8%.

The 2020 census missed 0.24% of the entire U.S. population, a rate that wasn’t statistically significant, while it missed 0.01% in the 2010 census.

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The census figures help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year as well as how many congressional seats each state gets. Any undercounts in various populations can shortchange the amount of funding and political representation they get over the next decade.

In the years leading up to the 2020 census, advocates worried that a failed attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire would scare off Hispanics and immigrants from participating, whether they were in the country legally or not. The Trump administration also unsuccessfully tried to get the Census Bureau to to exclude people in the country illegally from numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states.

During a conference call Thursday, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said many Latino communities throughout the U.S. suffered during the pandemic from joblessness and housing insecurity, and that played a role in the undercount. But he added that the Trump administration’s actions also may have had an impact.

“I’m personally not surprised to see the results we see today,” said Santos, who was sworn into the position at the beginning of the year.

Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO Educational Fund, said he had never seen such a large undercount in the Hispanic population during 35 years of following the census.

“As you can imagine, we are just terribly — I can’t even find the word right now — upset about the extent of the Latino undercount,” Vargas said on the conference call.

About 70% of Native Americans live on reservations. James Tucker, the chairman of a Census Bureau advisory committee, estimated the undercount translates to at least 100,000 Native Americans on reservations not counted and more than a $300 million loss in federal funding for Indian Country annually.

“The substantial resources and efforts that tribes and national and local organizers made to get a complete count in Indian Country made a difference,” Tucker said. “Without those efforts, the undercount undoubtedly would have been much greater than it was.”

Lycia Maddocks, political director of NDN Collective, a South Dakota-based advocacy group, said COVID-19 made it difficult to count people living on reservations because many tribes closed their borders. Additionally, many residents didn't have internet access and the Census Bureau's efforts to hire tribal members for the count “were slow and came too little," said Maddocks, who is a citizen of the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe based in Yuma, Arizona.

Any undercount “puts tribal nations at a disadvantage when seeking funding for basic health care, infrastructure, education, and other needs that contribute directly to advance self-determination," Maddocks said.

The pandemic disrupted census operations and schedules, and it made residents wary of opening their doors to answer questions from census takers. Wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast during the door-knocking phase of the head count sent residents fleeing from their homes.

In the first report released Thursday, the Post-Enumeration Survey, a sample of households was re-interviewed by census takers and those responses were matched with their 2020 census results. The second report, the Demographic Analysis, used immigration data and birth and death records to calculate the population, which was compared to the 2020 census results.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Monday released state population totals that determine the number of House seats each state gets out of 435. According to the data, southern states grew the fastest, with a 10.2% overall increase in population.


Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed to this report.

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