Researchers Worry That the Census May Still Falter on Questions of Race

By Jamilah King Dec 27, 2012

The Census Bureau is considering possible revisions for its 2020 survey, and the proposed changes have raised concerns among some communities of color who fear that they’ll be undercounted. Corey Dade reports at NPR about just what’s at stake: "Race data collected in the census are used for many purposes, including enforcement of civil rights laws and monitoring of racial disparities in education, health and other areas," not to mention redrawing legislative districts.

Here at Colorlines, Kai Wright notes the real threat to undercounting people of color and some more profound reasons than "electoral clout" for why that undercount matters.

When the bureau began measuring across all races and ethnicities in 1990, it found blacks,  Latinos and Native Americans were all undercounted at more than double the national rate.

As a result, the nation’s largest metro areas have also been consistently shorted in the decennial Census. The bureau keeps a list of characteristics that make it tough to enumerate a given tract: lots of renters, low household incomes, new immigrant communities, single-parent families and large populations of people of color, among others. The list informs a ranking of "hard-to-count areas" that’s essentially a big-city roll call–Los Angeles County, Brooklyn, Chicago’s Cook County and Houston’s Harris County fill the top four spots this year.


The consequences of undercounting stretch far past mapping Congressional districts. Decennial Census numbers are used to plan things ranging from city council seats to airports and to divvy up hundreds of billions of dollars in federal support for state and local initiatives every year. In 2000 Census monitors analyzed how the undercount that year would affect funding for just eight federal programs. New York City was predicted to lose a collective $847 million. Harris County looked to miss out on roughly $240 million. This loss is amplified by the fact that undercounted communities are often those most in need of government programs–Medicaid, Head Start and special education, for example–whose funds are determined by Census data.

Read more here.