Posted on October 17, 2021

2020 Census May Have Massively Undercounted Black Population

Marc Ramirez, USA Today, October 15, 2021

The 2020 census may have undercounted the nation’s Black population by as much as 7%, or more than three times the rate of the 2010 Census, according to simulations conducted by an independent researcher.

Should they bear out, the projections could pose significant ramifications for the nation’s Black communities. Census figures chart the course for everything from political representation, health statistics and allocation of infrastructure and health care funding.

“This is unfortunate, but I’m not surprised,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “The census bureau did not adequately execute the door-knocking phase of the process. All signals pointed to an undercount.”

Undercounts have previously been reported by the Census, especially in communities of color. Lower homeownership rates in these communities, as well as mistrust of government officials who don’t look like them, have been linked to underreporting in the past.

The Trump administration’s handling of the count in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the nation also might have contributed to fewer Americans of color filling out the census. Trump unsuccessfully sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count. And census workers curtailed efforts to go door to door to do the count because of the pandemic.

The National Urban League last year sued the bureau in an effort to fight the Trump administration’s decision to abandon census door-knocking efforts after the deadline for those efforts had been extended because of the pandemic.


Experts had warned that communities of color could be significantly undercounted particularly in rural and urban areas that the census bureau characterizes as challenging to count. Self-reporting in those areas is much lower than the national average.

Census numbers affect access to federal funding, including for Medicare and Medicaid, road construction, Section 8 housing vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The 2020 census estimates roughly 12.4% of Americans are Black.

“This undercount could have wide-ranging consequences for communities of color,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ 2020 Census Task Force. “The foundation of our democracy and fair distribution of taxpayer dollars depend on a fair, accurate census count.”


Connie Citro, a semi-retired senior scholar at the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, carried out the simulations on her own initiative after noting reports indicating low numbers of self-response rates to the census in areas with high numbers of low-income, Black and Latino residents.


Citro’s simulations examined both census respondents who checked Black and no other race as well as those who checked Black in combination with “some other race,” using low, middle and high population projections released by the census bureau in December.

Based on her simulation, Citro estimated that the census’ 2020 count for those who checked Black and no other race could range between 3.24 and 7.25% below the actual number. That figure was estimated at just 2.3% in 2010.

For those who checked Black and “some other race,” Citro’s simulation projected anywhere from a slight overcount to an undercount of 4.36%. In 2010, that category was ultimately estimated to have been undercounted by 1%.