U.S. Census Bureau report finds ‘racial gap’ in 2020 population count

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released a report looking at the accuracy of their 2020 population count and whether they missed key groups of people across the country. Among the findings were miscounts with multiple groups with some of the largest based on race. NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss the findings.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report looking at the accuracy of its 2020 population count and whether it missed key groups of people across the country.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The census found miscounts with multiple groups. The official census number overcounted two groups, non-Hispanic whites and Asians, but it undercounted Blacks, Native Americans living on reservations and Hispanics by even more.

    To talk more about those miscounts and what they mean, I'm joined by NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang.

    Hansi, let's just start with those overcounts and undercounts, especially the undercounts. Exactly how large were they? What are we talking about here?

  • Hansi Lo Wang, NPR:

    Well, we're talking about undercount set, for Latinos, more than three times the net undercount rate compared to 2010. That's a dramatic increase.

    And for the Black people and for Native Americans living on reservations, they are numerically higher net undercount rates, but the Census Bureau says they're not statistically any different. But, still, the bottom line here is that there is this racial gap between people of color, generally speaking, and people who identify as white and not Hispanic.

    And what is also interesting is that you do see an overcounting of Asian Americans, which was not seen in 2010. And just to be clear, it's also not clear exactly how well the Census Bureau did in counting Pacific Islanders.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm going to play the sounds, some of the concerns we heard from some of these groups today.

    Listen to some of this.

  • Marc Morial, President, National Urban League:

    Some four million-plus, maybe as many as five million, Black people have been missed, and perhaps an equal number of people of Hispanic and Latino descent have been missed, is a tragedy and an act of near malfeasance and incompetence.

  • Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, NALEO Educational Fund:

    Today we learned that this census was really a five-alarm fire when it comes to Latinos. The undercount of Latinos has tripled between 2010 and 2020. And I think that has significant implications for the entire country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not just concern there. You and I were both on the call with the Census Bureau. There seemed to be some anger from some of these groups as well.

    Can you help us understand, why is this happening? What do we know about why some groups in the official census number just are not counted as they really exist?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    This is a longstanding flaw with census numbers going back decades. This trend is not new. And what is new is that, in 2020, we had the pandemic, coronavirus. Just as counting was getting really started nationwide, the outbreaks were happening.

    And we had years of interference from former President Donald Trump's administration, beginning, most notably, with the failed push to add a citizenship question to the forms. It did not end up on the forms, but it stirred up a lot of controversy, a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty from a lot of households, especially those with immigrants living in them, of whether or not to participate in the census.

    And then, during counting, in 2020, the former — former President Donald Trump's administration ended counting early. All of these raised — all of these factors raised the risk of undercounting people of color, because research has shown that the way to get those groups counted is through that person-to-person interaction, in person, door-knocking, interviews, not necessarily counting on households to fill out a form and essentially participate in the census on their own.

    And so that's really major factors here of why we're seeing really a bad report card in many ways for the Census Bureau.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Racial groups are not, of course, the only demographic.

    And in this census, this review also found that another group was undercounted significantly, children under the age of 5.

    We reached out to a children's advocate to talk about what exactly they think that means, their concern there.

  • Bill O’Hare, Partnership For America’s Children:

    Probably the most important reason this matters for young children and for children in general is that there's about $1.5 trillion given out by the federal government to states and localities every year. That's $15 trillion over 10 years, if the census data is used.

    And that buys a lot of things, like schools and child care and playgrounds, things that kids need.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In both of these areas, for kids and also for different racial groups in this country, can you help us understand what's at stake? What does a miscount in the census really mean in real lives?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    When we're talking about the census, we are talking about power. We are talking about money.

    These are the numbers used to reallocate each state's share of congressional seats, Electoral College votes. They're being used to redraw voting maps for every level of government across the country. And these are numbers used to help guide the distribution of some $1.5 trillion a year for health care, for transportation, for education, almost all public services.

    And so, when there are these racial inequities baked in, in terms of inaccuracies of these counts, you're going to have racial inequities baked into the decision-making, into how power, political power is shared, how federal funding is shared.

    We're not even talking about how researchers, businesses rely on this data to have just a basic general understanding of who is living in the United States of America. And based on these undercount rates and overcount rates that the census put out today, it's another point of evidence here that these numbers aren't true reflections of exactly who is living in the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hansi, in our last 30 seconds or so, what's next? Are these numbers final? I know some groups are thinking about court action. But are these numbers final now?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    Well, these numbers have already been used to reallocate congressional seats, Electoral College votes.

    They are already being used to redraw voting maps. The Census Bureau — one of the Census Bureau officials did confirm to me today that the bureau is looking into possibly doing some more research in how to use these over and under-cutting rates and to factor them into upcoming population estimates.

    And those estimates help guide how that federal funding is distributed. So, that could have some potential impact here on maybe a more equitable distribution of federal funding.

    But it is a real big question of just how a lot of local communities, when they look at their numbers, and they feel like they're not quite an accurate reflection of who is living there in their communities. It's a big question of what actually can be done, beyond waiting for the 2030 census.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hansi Lo Wang with NPR and our census guru, thank you so much.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    You're welcome.

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