The 2020 census undercounted Black people, Hispanics and Native Americans while overcounting white and Asian people, according to a report released by the Census Bureau Thursday.
The findings continued the bureau’s longstanding struggles in counting underrepresented groups while overcounting non-Hispanic white people, a mistake that can have severe repercussions on voting districts, congressional representation and the allocation of federal funds.
In a statement, Census Bureau Director Rob Santos noted that the quality of the total population count was on par with recent censuses, though the under- and overcounts present “limitations.”
“Taking today’s findings as a whole, we believe the 2020 Census data are fit for many uses in decision-making as well as for painting a vivid portrait of our nation’s people,” said Santos, who was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed after the decennial count was completed. “We’ll be exploring the under- and overcounts further. That is part of our due diligence, our pursuit of excellence, and our service to the country.”
The data released Thursday was the result of two analyses, both conducted by the Census Bureau, that collected data through a sample survey or demographic records. The findings suggested the 2020 census missed Hispanic and Latinos at three times the rate as in 2010 (an undercount rate of roughly 5 percent, as opposed to 1.5 percent in 2010).
The Black or African American population was undercounted at a rate of 3.3 percent, up from 2.1 percent in 2010. The American Indian or Alaska Native populations living on reservations were undercounted at a rate of 5.6 percent, higher than the 2010 rate of 4.9 percent. The American Indian or Alaska Native population not living on reservations was not miscounted.
The Census Bureau noted the difference in the 2020 census’ undercount rate for the Black or African American population and the American Indian or Alaska Native population living on reservations, when compared to the 2010 census, was not statistically significant.
Data from the sample survey also suggest the non-Hispanic white population and the Asian population were overcounted, and the difference in overcount between 2010 and 2020 was statistically significant.
Fears of a significant undercount began brewing shortly after the official data was released last spring, especially among historically underrepresented groups. When Arizona — a state with a growing Hispanic and Latino population — failed to receive another congressional seat last April, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) told POLITICO there was “definitely an undercount” of underserved communities in the census.
The 2020 census found itself at the center of a political tug-of-war, falling on an election year and amid the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Then-President Donald Trump pushed to add a citizenship question to the mandatory survey, causing the Census Bureau to spend millions in advertising to combat it, even after Trump formally abandoned his effort in 2019. And the Trump administration slashed a month from the data-collecting window, exacerbating the already-frenzied process of integrating a first-time online survey with the in-person count.
Census data is used to redraw voting districts, allocate seats in Congress and decide the number of Electoral College votes a state will receive for presidential elections. Some $1.5 trillion in federal funding is allocated in conjunction with census counts each year.