Around 1 in 20 residents in Arkansas and Tennessee were missed during the 2020 census, and four other U.S. states had significant undercounts of their populations which could short-change them of federal funding in the current decade, according to figures from a survey the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.
In Florida, and Texas, undercounts appear to have cost them congressional seats too.
On the flip side, residents in eight states were overcounted during the once-a-decade head count that is used to allocate political power and federal funding. In Minnesota and Rhode Island, overcounts appear to have saved them from losing congressional seats.
In the remaining 36 states and the District of Columbia, the overcounts and undercounts were not statistically significant. Undercounts signal people were missed. Overcounts suggest they were counted more than once, as for example, children of divorced parents who share custody or people with vacation homes.
The figures released Thursday from the Post-Enumeration Survey serve as a report card on how well residents in the 50 states and District of Columbia were counted during a census that faced unprecedented obstacles from a pandemic, hurricanes and wildfires, social unrest and political interference by the Trump administration.
The survey re-interviews a sample of residents and compares those results to the census to see “what we did right and what we did wrong,” said Census Bureau official Timothy Kennel.
States that did a better job of getting residents counted scored greater Electoral College and congressional representation, or did not lose expected seats in the House of Representatives. They also are now better positioned for the annual distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding in the coming decade.
Nothing can be done at this point to change how many congressional seats are allocated among the states, and neither can the data used for redrawing congressional districts be adjusted.
Thursday’s release did not break down by demographic traits how good a job the 2020 census did at the state level, but a national report card released in March showed the Black population in the 2020 census had a net undercount of 3.3%, while it was almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Alaskans living on reservations. Those identifying as some other race had a net undercount of 4.3%. The non-Hispanic white population had a net overcount of 1.6%, and Asians had a net overcount of 2.6%, according to the results.
Academics and civil rights leaders are pressing the Census Bureau to tweak yearly population estimates that traditionally have used census numbers as their foundation, and instead employ other data sources to produce a more accurate portrait of the undercounted racial and ethnic communities for the numbers that help determine the distribution of federal funding. The Census Bureau has set up a team to explore this.
Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois respectively had undercounts of 5%, 4.8%, 4.1% and 1.9%, while Florida and Texas respectively had undercounts of almost 3.5% and 1.9%.
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Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Texas did not direct as many resources as other states in encouraging residents to fill out census forms. Mississippi spent around $400,000 and Illinois allocated $29 million toward those efforts. Historically, groups that have undercounts are racial and ethnic minorities, renters and young children.
Demographer Allison Plyer also observed that Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have among the highest rates of households without a computer or internet subscription. The 2020 census was the first head count in which most participants were encouraged to fill out the form online.
“Get-out-the-count efforts can make a big difference, even when your community has poor internet access and is less likely to answer the census,” said Plyer, chief demographer of The Data Center in New Orleans. “Where states prioritized, get-out-the-count, it looks like it made a difference.”
Texas and Florida, two of the fastest growing states over the last decade, had been expected to gain more congressional seats from the 2020 census than they actually did. Florida gained only one extra seat and Texas only got an extra two.
Florida’s undercount translates into around 750,600 missed residents, and an analysis by Election Data Services shows the Sunshine State needed only around 171,500 more residents to gain an extra seat. The undercount in Texas translates into around 560,000 residents, while the Election Data Services analysis put Texas as needing only 189,000 more residents to gain another congressional seat.
Hispanics make up more than a quarter of Florida’s population and almost 40% of Texas residents, and critics say the Trump administration’s failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the census form may have had a chilling effect on the participation of Hispanics, immigrants and others.
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It was a different story for states where residents were overcounted, like Minnesota and Rhode Island. Minnesota was allocated the 435th and final congressional seat in the House of Representatives; if Minnesota had counted 26 fewer people, that seat would have gone to New York. Minnesota’s 3.8% overcount amounted to around 219,000 residents.
In Rhode Island, the 5% overcount translates into more than 55,000 residents. It would have lost a seat if 19,000 fewer residents had been counted, according to Election Data Services.
Other states with overcounts were Hawaii, at almost 6.8%; Delaware, at 5.4%; New York, at 3.4%; Utah, at almost 2.6%; Massachusetts, at 2.2%; and Ohio, at almost 1.5%.
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