Mora: What can we do about Latino undercount in 2020 census?

More on the undercount:

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a long-awaited report estimating the 2020 census undercount. Given the challenges of conducting a census in a pandemic, undercounts had been expected by many experts and the report bore them out: The overall total population was deemed accurate, but white people and Asian Americans were overcounted, and other groups were undercounted, especially Latinos. In fact, the undercount rate of Latinos — at 5% — represents a staggering 300% increase compared with the 2010 census.

This is not a new problem. Latinos have been a “hard to count” population for decades. Analysts at the Census Bureau know their counts may miss those who have lower incomes, experience housing instability, speak languages other than English and distrust or fear the government — all qualities present in Latino communities, which include high percentages of immigrants and whose members face discrimination that can lead to economic disadvantage.

But while an undercount may have been expected, a 300% increase is not business as usual. Rather, it is an injustice and the culmination of a calculated attack on the census during Donald Trump’s presidency.

When President Trump was elected, the Census Bureau was in the process of changing the way it tabulates race and ethnicity. Drawing on more than a decade of research and with input from hundreds of civil rights and other organizations, the bureau had decided to allow respondents to identify their race and ethnicity in a “check all that apply” format, and to include among the options Hispanic/Latino and Middle Eastern/North African. The revised format was shown in tests to improve response rates for all groups, and especially for Latinos.

In 2018, Trump and his secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, halted the revision and demanded their own change in the 2020 census forms — a question to determine the citizenship of respondents. A lengthy legal battle ensued, ending in a 2019 ruling siding with Latino advocacy groups who had shown that a citizenship question would disparately affect Latino communities, dramatically depressing their participation and undermining the Constitution’s mandate to count “the whole number of persons in each state.”

The damage was done however. During 2019-2020, we conducted interviews with Latinos in two major metropolitan areas and found widespread distrust of the Trump administration that often led our interviewees to fear completing and submitting their census forms.

And now the result: A significant undercount of Latinos in the statistical base that governs political representation and many other functions of government. The 5% underrepresentation for a Latino population of more than 60 million could translate into at least $3 billion in lost funding for some towns and cities. The impact on political power is as profound. The undercount will likely mean fewer elected advocates for the kind of immigration and economic reforms that are central for Latino communities’ well-being.

In the end, the Trump administration got what it wanted. It undermined a burgeoning minority in the United States, falsifying the size and scale of the population and literally discounting them.

So where do we go from here? First, Robert L. Santos, the new director of the Census Bureau, can immediately adopt the revised race and ethnicity census question format so that all future research — including the interim surveys that supplement the decennial count — will allow Latinos to better identify themselves.

Next, Congress must establish a task force to examine the issue of Census Bureau integrity, with the goal of shielding the decennial count from overt political manipulation. The Trump administration’s behavior proves that we need a set of legislative policies that protect and reinforce the bureau’s independence and scientific goals. The decennial count must never again be held hostage to presidential whims.

Finally, Latino advocacy and community groups must organize with others to petition and pressure state legislators to use the Census Bureau’s adjusted estimates as they set policy in the coming years.

State and congressional redistricting based on the inaccurate count has already happened and can’t be undone, but the adjusted figures can help to combat some of the effects of undercounting on the way funds are allocated.

The nonpartisan work of the Census Bureau can and must be protected. Ultimately, the undercounts in 2020 affected people of color — including those who identify as Latino, Black and American Indian. The errors represent a critical issue for our democracy. They make communities invisible and trigger losses that will be felt for generations to come.

G. Cristina Mora is an associate professor of sociology and the co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. Julie A. Dowling is associate professor of sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She served on the U.S. Census Bureau’s advisory committee on race and ethnicity from 2014 to 2020.

Source: Op-Ed: What can we do about Latino undercount in 2020 census?

The 2020 census had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans

More on the census and undercounts:

The 2020 census continued a longstanding trend of undercounting Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, while overcounting people who identified as white and not Latino, according to estimates from a report the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.

Latinos — with a net undercount rate of 4.99% — were left out of the 2020 census at more than three times the rate of a decade earlier.

Among Native Americans living on reservations (5.64%) and Black people (3.30%), the net undercount rates were numerically higher but not statistically different from the 2010 rates.

People who identified as white and not Latino were overcounted at a net rate of 1.64%, almost double the rate in 2010. Asian Americans were also overcounted (2.62%). The bureau said based on its estimates, it’s unclear how well the 2020 tally counted Pacific Islanders.

The long-awaited findings came from a follow-up survey the bureau conductedto measure the accuracy of the latest head count of people living in the U.S., which is used to redistribute political representation and federal funding across the country for the next 10 years.

Other estimates the bureau released on Thursday revealed that the most recent census followed another long-running trend of undercounting young children under age 5.

COVID and Trump administration meddling hurt the count’s accuracy

While the bureau’s stated goal is to “count everyone once, only once, and in the right place,” miscounts have come with every census. Some people are counted more than once at different addresses, driving overcounts, while U.S. residents missing from the census fuel undercounting.

Disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic and interference by former President Donald Trump’s administration raised alarms about the increased risk of the once-a-decade tally missing swaths of the country’s population. COVID-19 also caused multiple delays to the bureau’s Post-Enumeration Surveythat’s used to determine how accurate the census results are and inform planning for the next national count in 2030.

During the news conference announcing the follow-up survey results, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos — who, before becoming the agency’s head, told Bloomberg CityLab that he believed the census was “being sabotaged” during the Trump administration to produce results that benefit Republicans — acknowledged “an unprecedented set of challenges” facing the bureau over the last couple of years.

“Many of you, including myself, voiced concerns. How could anyone not be concerned? These findings will put some of those concerns to rest and leave others for further exploration,” Santos, a Biden administration appointee, said during the news conference announcing the follow-up survey results.

The bureau said previously that it believes the census results are “fit to use” for reallocating each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, as well as redrawing voting districts.

Census numbers are also used to guide the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion each year in federal money to communities for health care, education, transportation and other public services. Some tribal, state and local officials are considering ways of challenging the results for potential corrections that would be factored into future funding decisions.

The report the bureau released on Thursday only provided a national-level look at the count’s accuracy, and the agency says it’s planning to release state-level metrics this summer.

“There are a lot more states for us to check and review and look through,” said Timothy Kennel, assistant division chief for statistical methods, during a webinar before Thursday’s release.

Civil rights groups are looking for remedies

Still, these national-level metrics resurfaced concerns among civil rights organizations and other census watchers who have warned for years about the risk of racial gaps in the census numbers leading to inequitable allocations of political power and federal money.

In response to the bureau reporting that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations continued to have the highest net undercount rate among racial and ethnic groups, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the results “confirm our worst fears.”

“Every undercounted household and individual in our communities means lost funding and resources that are desperately needed to address the significant disparities we face,” added Sharp, who is also the vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Wash., in a statement.

Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, which led a federal lawsuit in 2020 to try to stop Trump officials from cutting counting efforts short, said the group’s lawyers are considering returning to court to try to secure a remedy.

“We’ve talked about voter suppression. Now we see population suppression,” Morial said on a call with reporters. “And when you tie them together, it is the poisonous tree of seeking to diminish the distribution of power in this nation on a fair and equitable basis.”

Other longtime census watchers see this moment as a chance to reimagine what the next count in 2030 could look like

Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said the next census should be taken in a “much more modern and effective way” to address the persistent undercounting of Latinos and other people of color.

“This whole notion of coming up with a master address file and mailing everybody an invitation to participate and hoping that they respond, and if they don’t, you go knock on their doors, that’s an obsolete way now of counting the U.S. population. We need a better way. I don’t have the answer to what that better way is, but I want to work with the Census Bureau to figure it out,” Vargas added.

In addition to looking ahead to the next decade, Vargas noted a more immediate concern: how to improve the annual population estimates that the bureau produces using 2020 census data and that states and local communities rely on to get their shares of federal funding.

Asked by NPR if there are any plans to factor the new over and undercounting rates into those estimates, Karen Battle, chief of the bureau’s population division, replied the agency is “taking steps in that direction.”

“But we have to do research so that we can understand whether or not we can do that,” Battle said.

Source: The 2020 census had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans

The 2020 census likely left out people of color at rates higher than a decade ago

Of note:

Last year’s approximately $14.2 billion census likely undercounted people of color at higher rates than those of the previous once-a-decade tally, an Urban Institute study released Tuesday suggests.

Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank say that while the Census Bureau may have continued to overcount people who identified as white and not Latino, it also likely failed to count some 2.5 million people in other racial and ethnic groups.

The Urban Institute estimates that nationwide, the net undercount rates by race or ethnicity were highest for Black people (2.45%), Latinx people (2.17%) and Pacific Islanders (1.52%). The estimated net undercount rates for Asian Americans and Native Americans were each less than a percent.

The study, which cites NPR’s reporting, also finds last year’s net undercount rate for children under 5 (4.86%) is likely higher than what is considered the bureau’s most reliable 2010 estimate. The net undercount rate for renters may have almost doubled over the past decade to 2.13%, and for households with noncitizens, that rate may have been as high as 3.36%.

The Urban Institute’s method for calculating the national head count’s accuracy is different from what the Census Bureau uses. The think tank’s new figures come months before the bureau is set to start releasing its over- and undercount estimates from a follow-up survey for a census that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and interference from former President Donald Trump’s administration, including a failed push to add a citizenship question.

“In a decennial census where there was a lot of uncertainty, I think it’s increasingly important to have external benchmarks on census data so we know, for example, if states need to rethink how they allocate resources within their state,” Diana Elliott, one of the Urban Institute report’s co-authors, says of how each state’s share of federal funding is determined in part by census results.

To produce their estimates, researchers with the Urban Institute used census participation rates, national survey results and other data to simulate results of last year’s national head count.

One of the report’s advisers — Robert Santos, who is the Urban Institute’s chief methodologist — is also President Biden’s nominee for Census Bureau director.

Source: The 2020 census likely left out people of color at rates higher than a decade ago