A person knocking on an apartment door.

The Impact of Being Undercounted in the Census

In September 2020, we published a newsletter highlighting the shortcomings of the 2020 Census data collection process, warning of the implications of communities of color being undercounted.

This week, we learned that the worst-case scenario has come to pass. The Census undercounted the country’s population by 18.8 million people, with Black, Latino, and Indigenous people undercounted and white and Asian Americans being overcounted (NYTimes). Latine people were left out of the 2020 Census at three times the rate they were in 2010, while white, non-Latine people were overcounted at twice the rate of the previous Census (NPR). These distorted results will affect political representation and public services like health care, transportation, and education over the next decade. Read more on the U.S. Census page.

These findings are a stark reminder of the legacies of dispossession and theft from communities of color by the “racial democracy” of the United States. This setback should only motivate us to materially support efforts to build power in disadvantaged communities. Our goal must be that by the 2030 census, exploited and oppressed communities have the strength, interconnections, and power to ensure they are never undercounted again.

Beginning in 1790, the United States Census has been part of the country’s constitutional law. Every ten years, every person in America is counted for two main reasons: distributing funds and properly revealing representation. Census findings not only affect the funds and resources allocated to communities, but it also determines the number of seats each state in Congress holds and the drawing of congressional and state legislative districts (Census).

On August 3, the Census Bureau announced that field data collection would end on September 30, a month before the Trump administration’s extended October 31 deadline. (CNN) In an internal document released last week by the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee, Census Bureau officials warned the Trump administration that compressing the Census data timeline would “eliminate activities that will reduce accuracy” (CNN). With a shortened timeline, there won’t be time to review data that may be skewed in a practical matter before presenting it to the president on December 31.


Note: these action items were for the 2020 census, but keep them in mind as the next Census unfolds.

• Complete the Census! You can do it online, on the phone, or via mail: 2020census.gov.

• Create time and space at your (IRL or virtual) office for your team to complete the Census.

• View where your state ranks on the 2020 Census Response Rates. Then, research specific ways you can help your state/city count – whether by joining text/phone banking initiatives or spreading the word in your neighborhood.

A U.S. judge temporarily halted this movement last Saturday, an issue that will remain in effect until September 17, when she will hold a hearing in a lawsuit filed by the municipalities and advocacy groups (Reuters). This move buys the Census some “precious and indispensable time” to gather more data (NPR). And this adjustment is critical; a miscount threatens the accuracy of the numbers used for reapportioning seats in Congress and the annual distribution of $1.5 trillion for federal funding of public services (NPR).

The Trump administration’s decision to expedite the Census timeline during an election year and pandemic cannot be overlooked. Because the Census determines the allocation of seats in Congress, there is undoubtedly a push to receive incomplete data to ensure seats are held by those who don’t have marginalized communities’ best interests over the next decade (New York Mag).

A miscount or no count at all is disastrous for Black and Brown communities, immigrant communities, and those experiencing homelessness. Historically, Black and immigrant communities have been undercounted or not counted at all in the Census. In 1940, the Census Bureau missed 1 in 12 Black residents (The Guardian). In the 2010 census, 2.1% of African Americans were not counted, including 6% of African American children (Forbes).

Also undercounted: 1.5% of Hispanics and 5% of Indigenous people living on reservations while the white-non Latino population was overcounted by almost 1% (CBS). A 2019 report by the Urban Institute estimates that between 1.1 million and 1.7 million Black residents will be missed in 2020’s Census (Urban Institute). However, because of the ongoing pandemic and upending to daily life because of it, years of mistrust of the federal government, the numbers could be far higher.

Racial inequality in national statistics is not new. It has cost the Black community millions of dollars that could have been used for education, mental health services, clinics, businesses, and public programs like Medicaid. An example of this is the disproportionate incarceration rate of Black men.

Black men are incarcerated five times higher than white people, and when the Census traces, it documents that Black men are part of the prison population. This inflates the population count and divests funds from Black communities, where incarcerated Black men will eventually return (Forbes). Like the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, who successfully sued the administration over its citizenship question, advocacy groups have voiced their concerns about the new deadline:

“This new deadline allows Trump to cheat hard-to-count communities of color out of the resources needed for everything from health care and education to housing and transportation for the next 10 years” (CNN).

Like door-knocking, field operations are critical in undercounted communities and counting vulnerable populations like the unhoused. Black people in America only make up 13% of the population, yet, 42% of the unhoused population is Black. The numbers are even higher among Black people experiencing homelessness with children at 52% (ABCNews).

With the deadline fast approaching, Census field agents are now pushing to get into the rural communities that don’t have internet or telephone access. Virtual phone banks organized by advocacy groups are scheduled for September 9 in Chicago, where only 40% of households have completed the Census (ABC7). On the opposite end, fieldwork will end in San Diego, a city with a large Hispanic population, which will end on September 18, 12 days earlier than the official deadline (KTLA).

Almost 230 years later, to the first enumeration, the 2020 Census may be the most critical of our generation as we face down a public health crisis, racial uprisings, an economic crisis, and a federal government steeped in fascism. We must do everything in our power to ensure BIPOC people are counted in this Census. If we don’t, these communities stand to lose more than they already have over the last six months of this pandemic and four years of this administration.


  • The 2020 Census undercounted communities of color, skewing the data and needs of these communities for the decade that follows. The last day to complete the U.S. Census is September 30th.

  • Historically, communities of color are undercounted in the Census, leading to millions of dollars lost for valuable resources.

  • Decisions by the Trump administration in collecting Census data have directly impacted the results we see today.

  • In the 2010 Census, 1.5 million Black and Hispanic people went uncounted.

*This piece was originally published on 9/9/20. It was updated and edited by The ARD on 3/10/22.

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