Navigating the Undercount Risk in Census 2020

When it comes to the upcoming 2020 Census, the risk of an undercount is rooted in two (overlapping) factors: 1) general undercount risks (e.g. underfunding, change in leadership, distrust of government) and, 2) the proposed citizenship question. Below is a summary of recent research that highlights the risk of failing to count all individuals in the upcoming census.

General Undercount Risks

In their June 2019 report, Assessing Miscounts in the 2020 Census, the Urban Institute provides a comprehensive assessment of the potential undercount in the 2020 Census. The report takes into account several factors, including insufficient funding for the Census over the past decade, the introduction of internet response option, the use of administrative records to reduce Non-Response Follow-up (NRFU) field work, and the proposal to include a citizenship question.

The report presents the cumulative risk to census undercount across these factors, in High, Medium, and Low Risk scenarios. The authors project the census undercount at national and state levels, and by race/ethnicity and age. The report finds:

  • The total U.S. undercount could range from approximately 900,000 people to over 4 million people on the 2020 Census

  • Black and Hispanic/Latinx individuals could be undercounted nationally at a rate as high as 3.7 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively

Follow the link above for the full report or check out the Urban Institute’s data page for additional findings.

Citizenship Question Undercount Risk

On April 23, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in the case that will determine whether a the proposed citizenship question will appear on the 2020 Census. Since this controversy began in early 2017, researchers have been trying to understand how a proposed citizenship question will impact overall response rates.

Recent studies have found that the citizenship question will impede the mandate to ensure that everyone is fairly and accurately counted.

  • A Harvard study estimates that the citizenship question could lead to an undercount of roughly 6 million (12 percent) of the Latinx population nationally

  • A study by UCLA researchers concluded that 7 to 10 percent of the U.S. population, including 11 to 18 percent of immigrants, and 14 to 17 percent of Latinx individuals would not respond to a census with a citizenship question

For more on research quantifying the impacts of a citizenship question, read this Washington Post story.

Jason JurjevichSCOTUS