Overcounts, Undercounts May be Issue With Census Data

The accuracy of the decennial census is of utmost importance to every American citizen. It is through this data that government funds are allocated for public works projects, education, nutrition programs, health care, and a host of other federally-funded programs. But perhaps most importantly, census data serves as the basis for electoral districts, with our representation in Congress and the state legislature based on the population of specific geographic areas.

As reported by The New York Times, the U.S. Census Bureau appears to have miscounted the populations of 14 states – eight were overcounted, and six were undercounted. Six states – Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas – likely have larger populations than reported, while eight – Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah – likely have fewer residents than reported.

The impact of these miscounts could have huge ramifications in states where they take place. The undercount in Arkansas, for instance, is estimated at just over 5% at about 160,000 people – or 80% of the population of Little Rock. And the Census Bureau estimates that the undercount in Texas could range as high 985,000, which exceeds the size of a congressional district. Combine this with the ongoing problem of miscounts of people of color – it is estimated that the Census Bureau missed 5% of the nation’s Hispanics, 5.6% of the Native Americans, and 3.3% of the Black population – it is easy to see that an inaccurate census can have both immediate and far-reaching implications.

Fortunately, the count in Kansas appears to have been fairly accurate with an overcount of an estimated 3,149 people, or a mere 0.11% of the population. And while it is true there were numerous circumstances contributing to miscounts – COVID, wildfires, hurricanes, and growing mistrust of the federal government – the Census Bureau needs to do better. Miscounts of this magnitude could have a generational impact.