Census undercounted minority groups, bureau says
The decennial enumeration of everyone living within the United States did not fully count the number of Blacks, Latinos or American Indians and Alaska Natives, while overcounting both White Americans and Asian Americans, the Census Bureau said Thursday.
The overall count of people in the United States carried a tiny margin of error that adds up to fewer than a million people in a nation of 331 million, according to surveys the Bureau conducted after its decennial count.
But within that largely accurate count, the Bureau said it had discovered undercounts among minority populations that were more significant than the number of those populations who went uncounted in the last Census a decade ago.
Data from a post-enumeration survey, the regular check-in meant to measure an individual census’s accuracy, showed the Black population was undercounted by 3.3 percent, up from a 2 percent undercount in 2010. The Hispanic or Latino population was undercounted by 5 percent, well higher than the 1.5 percent undercount last time.
Among American Indians and Alaska Natives who were living on reservations, the Census undercounted populations by 5.6 percent, not a statistically different margin from the 4.9 percent undercount a decade ago.
The bureau overcounted the non-Hispanic white population by a 1.6 percent margin, nearly double the overcount rate that occurred a decade ago. And among Asian Americans, the bureau overcounted by 2.6 percent; ten years ago, the bureau’s calculations showed it nailed the number of Asian Americans in the country exactly.
The undercounts of minority populations came in the midst of an unprecedented effort by the Trump administration to tamper with the results of the Census. The White House attempted to add a question about citizenship to the Census, in spite of warnings from experts that doing so would lead to an undercount among Hispanic communities. The Commerce Department also tried to end some supplemental counting practices earlier than anticipated.
“The Census Bureau’s own research in terms of focus group research raised concerns very early on about he inclusion of the citizenship question,” said Robert Santos, who became the Bureau’s new director two months ago.
Census Bureau officials also said that the onset of the pandemic had a clear impact on the accuracy of the count, especially among minority populations.
“The condition of the population during the pandemic was quite profound. We had families of all races and ethnicities, but especially among Latinos, who were really suffering during this period,” Santos said.
The pandemic even slowed the post-enumeration survey itself.
Briefing reporters Thursday, Census Bureau officials said there were miscounts in several other populations, a factor that is not uncommon in an always-improving decennial exercise that seeks to count every single person inside the country’s borders.
Younger children, under the age of 5, were not counted sufficiently, along with working-age men. Meanwhile, college-age people between the ages of 18-24 were overcounted, as were people of retirement age. Renters were more likely to be undercounted, while those who own their own homes were slightly overcounted.
In total, though, Census officials said they were largely satisfied with the overall effort to count Americans. They said there would be no need to reallocate each state’s share of the population for the purposes of representation in the U.S. House of Representatives or in electoral college votes.
“The total census count appears robust and consistent with recent censuses,” said Timothy Kennel, assistant chief of the Bureau’s Decennial Statistical Studies Division.
Census Bureau officials said they were not yet able to say exactly how many people were undercounted, pending further study of the post-enumeration survey.
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