An important event that will impact the political power and economic resources of your community for the next decade is happening right now: the 2020 Census. The census—a count of every person living in the United States and its territories—is conducted every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2020 Census will be used to determine political representation, public services, and federal and state funding until 2030. There will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and your responses to the questionnaire are confidential. This edition of TMI Briefs focuses on the importance of the 2020 Census to Black people and their communities.
Many Important Programs Are Funded Based on the Census
More than $600 billion, and perhaps as much as $1.5 trillion, in federal funding is allocated to communities based on Census data. A large share of this funding serves people in poverty and people living in rural areas.Black Americans have a poverty rate higher than the U.S. average,and Black Americans make up a significant portion of America’s rural population,especially the rural population of the southeastern region of the U.S.For these reasons, an accurate census count is important economically to Black Americans.
Over 300 federal programs use Census data in some way to distribute funds.Below is a listing of just a small number of these programs. They include health programs like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP), housing programs like Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and the HOME Investment Partnerships, and educational programs like the Federal Pell Grant Program and Career and Technical Education grants. These programs address a wide variety of needs and challenges facing communities. A Census undercount runs the risk of Black communities being underfunded for critical social services.
As of mid-March 2020, every U.S. household has received instructions on how to complete the census survey online, by phone, or by mail. It only takes a few minutes and you are done. Please complete your census today! Visit 2020census.gov.
The vast majority of Black Americans know the importance of completing the census. Figure 1 (below) shows some top motivations for Black people when they fill out the census. Almost all Black people (96%) recognize that the census is used to allocate funding to hospitals and healthcare institutions. Medicaid, CHIP, and other health programs receive funding based on data from the Census.
For useful information on the census, read LDF's Census Guide.
Census Data Can be Key to Local Decisions about Public Services
Additionally, Census data can be used to help local governments determine the economic, social service, and infrastructure needs of their communities, such as where a new hospital or school should be located. A majority (84%) of Black people surveyed listed helping their local government as an important reason to complete the census (Figure 1).
Local governments can learn about their community’s changing needs based on data from the Census. Is the number of school-aged children growing enough to warrant building a new school? Does the community need more resources for food assistance because household incomes are declining? Does a community need more affordable housing, and, if yes, how much? These are all questions that can be answered with data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The more accurate the Census counts the better local governments can address the needs of their communities. As the Census Bureau notes:
Think of your morning commute: Census results influence highway planning and construction, as well as grants for buses, subways, and other public transit systems. Or think of your local schools: Census results help determine how money is allocated for the Head Start program and for grants that support teachers and special education.
Census Data is the Cornerstone of Political Representation
Black people are also aware that the census is vitally important for political representation (Figure 1). Representation in Congress is based upon census counts. Communities that are undercounted could lose out in political representation.
The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 seats that are divided amongst the states based upon Census population counts. The number of congressional Representatives a state has is determined based on its census counts. A significant undercount in a state could mean that the state loses representation in the House of Representatives. Some states face a higher undercount risk because they have significant populations of groups that have historically been undercounted. For example, “California has the greatest undercount risk, with projected 2020 undercounts ranging from 0.95 percent (low risk) to 1.98 percent (high risk). Other states at risk for serious undercounts are Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Georgia, New York, and Florida.”When entire communities are significantly undercounted relative to others, it can mean that their voices are not adequately represented.
The Costly Black Undercount
In the 2000 and 2010 Censuses, White Americans were overcounted.This means that some individuals were counted more than once. The Urban Institute projects that White Americans will be overcounted again in this year’s census.
In the 2000 and 2010 Censuses, Black Americans were undercounted.This means that some individuals were not counted at all. In 2010, Black Americans had the largest undercount of America’s major racial/ethnic groups (Figure 2).The Black undercount is driven by a large undercount of Black men and of Black children under five years old (Figure 3).
The Urban Institute projects that an undercount of Black people in 2020 could be even greater than the 2010 undercount.Any Black undercount puts a significant amount of funding for Black communities at risk. The Table in the Appendix below provides a rough estimate (using just five of over 300 federal programs) of the funding at risk, by state, from a “high” Black undercount in 2020. These five programs all use the same funding formula. They are Medicaid (Medical Assistance Program), CHIP, Foster Care Title IV-E, Adoption Assistance Title IV-E, and the Child Care and Development Fund Matching Funds.
From these five programs, a “high” Black undercount in the 2020 Census risks about $200 million for Texas, and about $100 million for Florida, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Between $50 million and $100 million is at risk for an additional eight states. Again, these rough estimates only attempt to calculate the dollars at risk for just five of more than 300 programs. States, localities, and Black communities within them can lose substantial sums due to a Black undercount.
It is imperative that we ensure that every Black person in America is counted. As illustrated in Figure 3 above, it is worthwhile to do extra outreach to Black men and to Black households with young children, as these groups are at a heightened risk of being undercounted.
 American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest undercount of all the reported groups. Id.
Id.; Marc H. Morial, CEO and President, National Urban League, Testimony to House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, 2020 Census Field Hearing (NYC) 4 (May 28, 2019).