The 2020 census sabotage could be devastating for your state

Back in March, officials from the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed many civil rights activists’ worst fears regarding the 2020 count: It disproportionately undercounted Black, Latino and Indigenous groups.

Now, new data from the agency is giving us a sense of which states did the poorest jobs accurately counting their populations. States will feel reverberations from this catastrophe for years, given the fact census data determines how many congressional seats each state receives, how to draw congressional districts, and how to allocate federal funds to states.

A survey released by the Census Bureau found the states with statistically significant undercounts include Arkansas (5.04%), Tennessee (4.78%), Mississippi (4.11%), Florida (3.48%), Illinois (1.97%) and Texas (1.92%). 

The data prove several southern states did a uniquely bad job of ensuring all of their residents were accurately counted. Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t specify which racial groups were most undercounted, but the report from March, and the history of census undercounts, suggest Black and brown people will feel the brunt of the pain here.

The data is particularly somber news for Black and brown people in all of the southern states mentioned above, because Republicans in each of those states have passed measures — from gerrymandered district maps to ballot restrictions — that essentially codify white rule. For example, the incorrect census data has already been used to take a district seat from Florida and Texas (notably, Republicans underfunded census efforts in both states). And despite the fact Black and brown people drove population growth in both states over the past decade, conservative lawmakers drew districts that gave white voters more power. 

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The census undercount is already being used to deny marginalized groups the representation (and thus, the policy priorities) they desire in federal and state government. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the census survey found the states with statistically significant overcounts include Hawaii (6.79%), Delaware (5.45%), Rhode Island (5.05%), Minnesota (3.84%), New York (3.44%), Utah (2.59%), Massachusetts (2.24%), and Ohio (1.49%). 

Again, without demographic data it’s hard to know which groups were most overcounted on the state level, but looking at the March data gives us reason to assume white people and some Asian groups were most likely to be overrepresented in the count. 

It’s important to remember this chaos is by design. The Trump administration repeatedly tried to sabotage the census count, through their unsuccessful effort to add a citizenship question that was likely to discourage some families with immigrant relatives from participating, and in 2020, by ending the count earlier than usual. We’ve yet to see the full extent of the damage.