22 senators call on Census Bureau to fix undercount

Associated Press/Matthew Brown

A group of Democratic senators on Thursday called on Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Census Bureau Director Robert Santos to find ways to fix the undercount of Hispanic, Black and American Indian populations in the 2020 census.

The senators, led by New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez (D) and Cory Booker (D) and Hawaii Sens. Mazie Hirono (D) and Brian Schatz (D), noted that ethnic and racial group undercounts in 2020 were far larger than the historical average.

“The 2020 Census undercounted the Hispanic or Latino population by 4.99 percent, up from 1.54 percent in 2010 and more than three times the percentage of the previous census,” wrote the senators.

“Similarly, individuals who identify as ‘some other race’ had an undercount three times that of the previous census. In the case of Black or African American individuals, the report revealed an undercount of 3.30 percent, nearly twice the undercount of the 2010 Census,” they added. 

“Finally, American Indian or Alaska Natives in reservations had the greatest undercount of all at 5.64 percent.”

The 2020 census was marred by the coronavirus pandemic, but a series of unorthodox moves by the Trump administration also affected its timing and outreach, likely contributing to the higher than usual undercount.

The most public and controversial Trump administration census policy was a push to include a citizenship question, despite the decennial count’s constitutional mandate to enumerate all persons living in the United States, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

The question was ultimately not included in the census, but critics argued it discouraged many immigrants from participating.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration made significant efforts to depress participation in the 2020 Census, particularly in immigrant and Latino communities. The prior Administration insisted on numerous occasions on the inclusion of a citizenship question in the non-partisan 2020 Census,” wrote the senators. 

“Although this question was ultimately not included in the 2020 Census, and despite numerous outreach efforts, these actions, and the public coverage thereof, undoubtedly influenced minority communities’ participation in the latest Census, particularly in the Hispanic and Latino populations,” they added.

An accurate census count has far-reaching implications for the decade it is in effect, particularly because it serves as the benchmark for distributing federal funds nationwide and as the basis for apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives and distribution of state legislative districts.

Historical undercounts have contributed to poverty rates among underserved populations, particularly in social services like health care and education.

“The undercounting of Latino, Black and Native American individuals deeply affects already disadvantaged communities in a plethora of ways, most acutely in the allocation of federal funding and government representation,” wrote the senators.

Since the decennial census is a constitutional mandate, there is debate as to what or how much can be done to revisit a marred count.

Still, the senators asked Raimondo and Santos to come up with a plan to fix flaws in the 2020 count and implement measures to avoid a repeated undercount in 2030.

“We ask the U.S. Census Bureau to consider ways to correct the undercount in the annual population estimates derived from 2020 Census data and reiterate its commitment to counting all persons in future decennial censuses. In addition, we ask the Bureau to provide a plan for how it will ensure such undercounting in the four groups outlined above does not repeat itself,” they wrote.

Tags 2020 Census Black Americans Bob Menendez Brian Schatz Cory Booker Gina Raimondo Health care Latino Americans Mazie Hirono Native Americans Robert Santos

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