2020 Census May Undercount Underrepresented Minorities

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

An accurate census is critical because the 2020 Census will determine how many representatives each state is allocated in Congress, where federal, state, and local redistricting occurs, and where federal funding is allocated for the next 10 years. A report by the Urban Institute found that some Americans did not want to answer the census because of fears related to their immigration status. They discovered that Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics were the most concerned that the census data would be used against them. Their lack of trust was partially due to citizenship questions that have since been removed from the census form. Minorities have been undercounted in the past due to this distrust and because the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) says they are hard to count.

The Trump administration has tried to exclude marginalized persons from being included in this year’s count through attempts to add citizenship questions and issuing a memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count. The New York Times says some believe that adding citizenship questions would “deter many immigrants and their families, both legal and undocumented, from filling out and returning their census forms.” Because Section 2 of the 14th Amendment states that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state,” the memorandum has since been blocked. The citizenship questions have also been removed after they were permanently blocked from the 2020 form.

The Supreme Court allowed the Trump Administration to close the 2020 Census early. Justice Sonia Sotomayor opposed the decision and wrote about it in her dissent in which she said, “meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying.” Originally, the data collection phase was to end on July 31, 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USCB requested a 120 day extension to make the new deadline of Oct 31, 2020, which was granted in the May 12, 2020 coronavirus relief bill.

On Oct 13, 2020, the USCB issued a press release stating that data collection for the 2020 Census would terminate Oct 15, 2020. This came as a surprise considering internal documents showed that the USCB needed all 120 extra days. The documents also revealed that data quality would be diminished and risk would be introduced into the outcomes of the Census which they stated would be “unacceptable for a Constitutionally-mandated national activity.”

The Supreme Court is set to have a hearing on President Trump’s memo to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census on Nov 30, 2020, only a month before complete census results are due to the President. If the ruling is overturned, the Trump administration would be able to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 count. It is unclear how they would achieve this as there was not an immigration status question on the 2020 Census. While the USCB awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling, the career staff have noted that they are “working to come as close as possible to the Dec 31 deadline,” and have not completely stopped working while trying to be flexible to “get the job done in a quality way.”

The USCB stated that they have counted 99.98% of those residing in the U.S., but as Justice Sonia Sotomayor has stated, just a fraction of a percent could leave hundreds of thousands of individuals left uncounted. There is no data showing where the missing 0.02% comes from.

Minorities are at risk of being undercounted in this year’s census due to the possibility of exclusion of undocumented immigrants and a distrust in government caused by the threat of citizenship questions being added to the 2020 Census. A shortened census may also contribute to an undercount of minorities.

Through Teen Lenses: What does a shortened census mean for Americans?

“A shortened census has the capability to drastically change the results of the census and their accuracy, as it would make it even harder to get accurate numbers from certain groups of people, such as minorities, poor, and the young. The amount of impact the census results hold means that this flawed data would influence every American. Those part of the groups that may be underrepresented in the shortened census could see changes in government funding in their areas. Even those whose funding would not be influenced as strongly are impacted because the census controls the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives. The decisions made by the House could be completely changed with a change of seats, based upon an inaccurate census.” Megan Boesen, 17, Senior at George Mason High School
“For Americans, a shortened census would mean underrepresentation for many minority groups, which the Trump Administration could likely use to their political advantage in the upcoming election. As Liptak 2020 from NYT states, ‘a shortened census would only worsen existing undercounts of people who have always been harder for census workers to reach.’ By shortening the census, many Americans would not be properly accounted for in the official election, therefore severely undermining ‘whatever public confidence remains in the census results.’” Abby Shin, 14, Freshman at Newton South High School
“I personally object the idea of shortening the census count. This once-a-decade event may not be able to count all the citizens that reside in the United States, and it may go against some minorities who would respond to the census at a later time. I feel like the census count should have not been shortened.” Anonymous, 14, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
“A shortened census means a harder life for multiple American mixed-status families and/or immigrants because census results have significant effects, in which the federal funding is allocated to different states and municipalities(hospitals, schools, etc) through the result of census results, and it is even more especially important during this time of the corona.” Rick Yoon, 16, Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology