As more data from the 2020 Census emerges from the federal government, advocacy experts are becoming increasingly alarmed that vast swaths of minority segments, including Asian, Latinx, Black, and Indigenous populations, were severely undercounted during the last survey of the nation’s population conducted under the leadership of former President Donald Trump.
According to reporter Dartunorro Clark from NBC News, “the initial numbers from the Census Bureau’s 2020 demographic snapshot of the country have left experts and advocacy groups worried that their worst fears have been realized — that people of color, particularly Asian Americans and Latino Americans, were undercounted.”
In an interview with NBC, Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said “the total resident population number was at the lower end of the estimates, and several states with large Latino populations did not do as well. And unfortunately, that, to me, suggests too many coincidences.”
“If the census numbers are wrong, then the amount of funding going to those areas with large Latino populations [means many] are not going to get their fair share,” Vargas said. “This is a 10-year error. It’s not just next year. It’s for the next decade.”
Concern over the Census numbers first arose in early April when the Census Bureau released long-awaited state population totals, which are used to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. Only seven states were flagged as needing an adjustment, the smallest shift since the congressional apportionment model was adopted in the 1940s.
“Arizona, Florida and Texas — states with large Latino populations — each ended up with one fewer House seat than had been projected,” Clark reported. “California and New York, which also have large Latino populations, each lost a seat.”
According to Clark, Arizona was the biggest shock for many since the state had grown by more than 766,000 people over the last ten years. Even with that significant growth, it was not awarded an additional seat — something that hadn’t happened since 1950.
Similarly, Clark also reported on the disparity between the rising Asian American population in the U.S. and the underwhelming census results from states where they are concentrated in. “The Asian population is the fastest-growing segment of eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. The population nearly doubled from 2000 to 2019 — from 11.9 million to 23.2 million — and it is projected to surpass 46 million by 2060,” Clark wrote. “However, states with the largest Asian populations [like] California, New York and Texas, lost a House seat or gained fewer than had been projected.”
According to Varun Nikore, head of the AAPI Victory Alliance, there may have been a “double fear factor” within these communities; beyond the language barrier, the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes and anti-immigration rhetoric contributed to Asian American reluctance to complete the 2020 Census survey — especially since outreach involved in-person interaction with a census taker.
Many experts blame the Trump administration for any failings the 2020 Census may have experienced. The timeline repeatedly changed, procedures were adjusted on the fly due to the pandemic and Republicans repeatedly attempted to add citizenship questions to the survey — a fact that may have scared many minorities off from completing the Census survey in its entirety.
Other than the controversies with the Census in 2020, Clark also reported that “historically, the Bureau has acknowledged that minority groups — Native tribes, the fast-growing Latino population, Asian Americans and Black Americans — are undercounted because of language barriers and because they live in rural areas or communities with limited internet access.”
In an interview with Clark, Tom Wolf, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said, “the short-term issue that we face is that the apportionment numbers are just raw head counts at the state level. They don’t tell us anything about the racial, ethnic characteristics of any of the people that were counted, and there are these open questions about whether even the national population total or the state [totals] told to us are accurate.”
Wolf also noted that “even if they were completely accurate, there would still be a need to keep a careful eye open for problems of racial and ethnic differential undercounts going forward.”
According to Clark, “the release of early census data was so troubling to national racial justice and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, which represents more than 53 million people, that they sent a memo asking the Biden administration to carefully mine federal data, including census numbers, to make sure that the undercounted are not left behind and to ‘deliver on the president’s equity goals.’”
“If you think about the communities that tend to be undercounted, they’re the communities who often need resources more,” added Diana Elliott, a researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. “It really sets up this question about equity and how things are distributed in our country.”