2020 Census Undercounted Latinos by Almost 5 Percent, Bureau Says

Mar 10, 2022
5:53 PM

Photo by Blervis/CC BY-SA 4.0

The 2020 Census failed to count 18.8 million people, mostly people of color, according to data published by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday.

The Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey, conducted after each census to verify its results, found that Latinos were undercounted in 2020 by 4.99 percent, a rate drastically higher than the 1.54 percent undercount rate in 2010.

Blacks were undercounted by 3.3 percent, up from 2.06 percent in 2010, which the Bureau described as “not statistically different.”

American Indian or Alaska Native populations living on reservations were undercounted by a rate of 5.64 —“not statistically different from a 4.88% undercount in 2010,” according to the Bureau— though the overall population was undercounted only by a rate of 0.86 percent.

People identified as “Some Other Race” were undercounted by 4.34 percent, up from 1.63 percent in 2010.

White and Asian populations, on the other hand, were overcounted in 2020 by a rate of 1.64 percent and 2.62 percent, respectively, marking a significant rate increase in both cases.

One noted reversal is that of people identified as “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” who were undercounted by a rate of 1.02 percent in 2010 but then overcounted by 1.28 percent in 2020.

“The primary function of the decennial census is to count the population in order to allocate U.S. House seats and hundreds of billions in federal dollars to states and communities,” wrote Rogelio Sáenz, a professor of demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, in 2019. “House seats are apportioned every ten years with fast-growing states gaining seats formerly held by states with little growth or decline. … The Census Bureau recently estimated that $675 billion in federal funds were distributed across 132 programs in 2015.”

Annual funding now stands at $1.5 trillion, according to the Washington Post.

Simply stated, Census data helps inform the distribution of political and economic power in the United States.

The Census Bureau faced an unprecedented set of challenges in conducting its 2020 count, namely the COVID pandemic, hurricanes and wildfires, plus efforts by the Trump administration to keep immigrants from voting and end the count earlier than scheduled.

“Back room talks between Secretary of Commerce William Ross, who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, and white nationalist and President Trump’s former chief strategist Steven Bannon birthed the idea of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census,” wrote Sáenz. “Just about two years before the 2020 census, Ross directed the Census Bureau to include the question on the 2020 census.”

“The real reason for including the citizenship question,” Sáenz concluded, “is to scare off people who are not U.S. citizens and citizens who live in homes with non-citizens from participating in the census, resulting in a significantly higher than usual undercount of the U.S. population. In the process, people who are not counted do not figure into the allocation of U.S. House seats as well as in the distribution of federal funds.”

On Thursday, news of the Census undercounts elicited strong rebukes from a number of Latino leaders.

“I’m personally not surprised to see the results we see today,” said Robert Santos, the Bureau’s new director —its first Latino one— appointed last November.

“I lay this at the feet of Donald Trump and [former Commerce Secretary] Wilbur Ross and their efforts to disrupt the census and make it as difficult as possible for Latinos to participate,” said Arturo Vargas, chief executive of the NALEO Educational Fund. “I said from the beginning when the first numbers were released that I smelled smoke, and today we learned that the 2020 Census was a five-alarm fire.”

“This was intentional,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). “The undercount will strip Latino communities of government funding and electoral power,” he added. “Congress must not allow this to happen again.”


Hector Luis Alamo is the Senior Editor at Latino Rebels and hosts the Latin[ish] podcast. Twitter: @HectorLuisAlamo