Some Illinois groups are worried that an undercount of Latinos and Black Americans in the 2020 Census could result in fewer resources for those groups.
A report released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau showed the decennial headcount missed higher percentages of Latino, Black and Native Americans nationwide in 2020 than it did in 2010. The bureau also reported overcounting people in the 2020 Census who identify as white or Asian.
The numbers were particularly stark for Latino populations. Their net undercount rate nationwide in the 2020 Census was 4.99% — nearly three times the rate from the previous decade.
Sylvia Puente, president and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, said the undercount is troubling but not surprising, and that it was a result of the Trump administration’s interference in the census, as well as challenges in outreach and counting posed by the pandemic.
“All the turmoil and the significant disinvestment in census resources by the federal government and by the last administration” contributed to the undercount, Puente said.
She added that Latinos are growing in population both in Chicago and Illinois, and that they are “one of the economic drivers of the state’s economy, from a workforce perspective, from a home ownership perspective, from basically just buying goods and services.”
The undercount should be considered when lawmakers and organizations dole out resources to communities that were missed in the census, Puente said. “There’s a real need for government and philanthropy … to ensure that there’s continued equitable investment in the Latino community.”
The census affects the distribution of nearly $1.5 trillion in federal funding each year, in areas such as education, health care, infrastructure and other services. The headcount also affects political representation and redistricting; Illinois’ population loss over the last decade has already resulted in the loss of one congressional seat.
The 2020 Census was plagued by a number of challenges, including fears among immigrants, the pandemic and the lack of tech accessibility with the census going online for the first time. During the count itself, enumerators reported problems with the census bureau’s app, as well as pressure to rush through the process in the face of ever-changing deadlines imposed by the Trump administration. The pandemic also meant less outreach about the census and decreased access to homes and residents during the count.
As a result, the Chicago region saw lower response rates than the previous decade, according to numbers from the census bureau. One report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning showed that some Chicago-area communities had census self-response rates that were more than 20 percentage points below those from the 2010 count.
“That Black, Hispanic and Native American populations were undercounted in the 2020 Census is not a surprise,” said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “To ensure a complete count in 2030, federal, state, local and philanthropic leaders must plan to make the census a priority throughout the decade. In the meantime, we will continue to organize and build power to address the structural inequities that make our communities ‘hard to count’ in the first place.”
Robert Santos, who took over as director of the U.S. Census Bureau in January, told National Public Radio last month that the agency was working to prevent political interference in future censuses.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.