Dartunorro Clark, NBC News, June 4, 2019
More than 4 million people — including a significant portion of black and Latino Americans—could be left out of the 2020 census, according to a study from the nonpartisan Urban Institute released Tuesday.
The Washington-based think tank said in its report that “unprecedented threats” facing the 2020 census, such as underfunding, hiring issues, inadequate testing and the potential addition of a citizenship question, could lead to the undercount, which would disproportionately affect minorities.
For this report, the institute crunched past census data and incorporated current funding and testing challenges faced by the Census Bureau to make its projections. The report’s authors noted that it is difficult to precisely project census figures, which is why they created “risk” scenarios, such as low and high. Low risk assumes the 2020 census will be on par with the 2010 census. High risk predicts that the census would perform below expectations, which government watchdogs have predicted.
According to the Urban Institute’s findings, black and Hispanic households face being undercounted nationally by almost 4 percent in a “high risk” scenario. White households, however, would be overcounted by .03 percent nationally under the same scenario.
An overcount occurs when there are enumeration errors, such as overestimating a household size or reliance on administrative records from other federal agencies to count hard-to-reach populations, the report said. Experts also note that while most past decennial counts have had accuracy issues, they were statistically insignificant. For comparison, the 2010 census undercounted 2.1 percent of the black population and 1.5 percent of the Latino population, according to the Census Bureau.
On the state level, the report warned that California and Texas—the nation’s two largest states, both with large numbers of immigrants — could face the greatest undercount risk, with up to 2 percent of their population not being counted.
The report also said that in the country’s 10 most populous states—California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas—black, Latino, Asian and Native American and Pacific Islander households would face an undercount in both low- and high-risk scenarios. White households in those states would be overcounted in almost every case, except in high-risk scenarios in Texas and California.
The 2020 census has come under intense scrutiny after President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would add the citizenship question, which critics say is an attempt to weaponize the census to punish blue states, which have large noncitizen populations, and stoke fear among immigrants.
However, court filings released last week by the American Civil Liberties Union in their lawsuit to prevent the addition of the question revealed that the idea originated with Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting specialist, who wrote in letters and memos that the question would create an electoral advantage for “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”
The Census Bureau has previously said that it is confident that it will complete an accurate 2020 census.