Black, Hispanic and Native Americans missed at higher rate in 2020 US census

Increase in undercounts prompts outcry from civil rights leaders who blame political interference from Trump administration

A sign promoting Native American participation in the US census is displayed in Lodge Grass, Montana. AP
Powered by automated translation

Black, Hispanic and Native American residents were missed at higher rates than a decade ago during the 2020 census, said a report that evaluated how well the once-a-decade headcount tallied every US resident.

Even though the 2020 census missed an unexpectedly small percentage of the total US population given the unprecedented challenges it faced, the increase in undercounts among some minority groups prompted an outcry from civil rights leaders who blamed political interference by former president Donald Trump's administration, which tried unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census form and cut field operations short.

The black population in the 2020 census had a net undercount of 3.3 per cent, while it was almost 5 per cent for Hispanics and 5.6 per cent for Native Americans and Native Alaskans living on reservations.

Those identifying as some other race had a net undercount of 4.3 per cent. The non-Hispanic white population had a net overcount of 1.6 per cent and Asians had a net overcount of 2.6 per cent, the results showed.

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 receives.

Any undercounts in various populations can shortchange the amount of funding and political representation they receive 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.

During a conference call on Thursday, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said many Latino communities throughout the US 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.

The severe undercount of the Hispanic population helps explain why three states with large Latino populations underperformed in the 2020 census, with Arizona failing to gain an extra seat, Florida gaining only a single seat and Texas taking only two seats, said Arturo Vargas, chief executive of Naleo Educational Fund.

“It was startling to me, the level of undercount,” Mr Vargas said. “We knew there was going to be an undercount, but the extent of it took me by surprise.”

About 70 per cent of Native Americans live off 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.

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.

The Post-Enumeration showed that 18.8 million people weren’t counted correctly in the 2020 census. Although some of them may have been missed, others were counted using a statistical technique that fills in missing data.

Updated: March 11, 2022, 7:27 PM