Who’s At Risk of Being Miscounted?
June 4, 2019
The decennial census, which aims to count every US resident each decade, is critical to our democracy. It affects congressional seats and funding decisions at every level of government.
But the 2020 Census faces unprecedented challenges and threats to its accuracy. Demographic changes over the past decade will make the population harder to count. And underfunding, undertested process changes, and the last-minute introduction of a citizenship question could result in serious miscounts, potentially diminishing communities’ rightful political voice and share of funding.
To understand how these factors could affect the 2020 Census counts, we created projections under three scenarios—reflecting the miscount risk as low, medium, or high.
Choose a state or demographic group to see who’s at risk of being miscounted.
Demographic changes alone could result in greater miscounts than in the 2010 Census.
This scenario assumes the 2020 Census’s performance will be similar to that of the 2010 Census in terms of over- and undercount rates among subpopulations. It factors in changes in US population age patterns, race and ethnic distributions, and the proportion of renters between 2010 and 2020. Even in this idealistic scenario, demographic changes would lead to a greater overall miscount than in 2010 because hard-to-count groups have become a larger share of the overall US population.
Changes to the census process, in addition to demographic changes, could result in greater miscounts than in the low-risk scenario.
This scenario assumes, in addition to demographic changes, that process changes introduced in 2020—like the online self-response option—will perform as the Census Bureau expects. But even if self-response rates align with the Bureau’s projections, the 2020 Census’s new approach to following up with people who do not respond (including greater reliance on administrative records to fill data gaps and fewer in-person follow-ups) would result in greater miscounts.
Lower-than-expected self-response rates, in addition to census process changes and demographic changes, could result in even greater miscounts than in the medium-risk scenario.
This scenario assumes the 2020 Census self-response rates will perform at the lowest level that the Census Bureau expects among all demographic groups. It also assumes that participation among Hispanic/Latinx residents and immigrants will be lower because of political discourse around immigration and the citizenship question. These lower self-response rates, combined with demographic changes and census process changes (like fewer in-person follow-ups), would result in greater miscounts than in the low- and medium-risk scenarios.