Census undercount of black and brown communities could impact economy
The decennial United States Census may seem very 2020 at this point – something that happened in a year that we would all like to forget.
But last month, the Census Bureau published its best estimate as to the accuracy of the count of every person living in the United States.
The good news? The census thinks its total number of 331,449,281 was fair enough.
The bad news? The bureau believes it has underestimated certain demographic groups yet again, missing about 3% African Americans, 5% Hispanics or Latinos, and 6% Alaska Natives and Native Americans living in reserves.
“At best, the census was a ‘D-,'” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans. “And the reason it was a ‘D-‘ is that substantial undercounting of black and brown communities should be unacceptable in a modern democracy.”
This undercount influences political redistribution and the distribution of federal dollars. It can also mess up local economies, a problem Morial knows firsthand. When he was mayor of New Orleans in the 1990s and early 2000s, he tried to attract more grocery stores to areas of the city considered food deserts.
“If a chain of grocery store developers looks at a neighborhood and says, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if there’s enough customer base there,’ that leads to divestment,” Morial said.
There are many reasons for the undercount. Renters are harder to count than landlords, and African Americans are disproportionately tenants. A well-founded distrust of the federal government, rooted in centuries of racism, also contributes.
Add a pandemic, natural disasters and Trump administration interferenceand it’s no surprise that 2020 saw another undercount.
The problem is that a 2020 undercount is not just a 2020 problem.
“The census once every 10 years is the foundation of all the statistics we track, including unemployment, poverty, employment, housing costs,” said Allison Plyer, chief demographer of the Data Center, which collects and analyzes socio-economic data. data in southeast Louisiana.
The Census Bureau publishes the American Community Survey every year. The ACS is a more detailed set of data that influences how more than 600 billion dollars in public dollars is distributed throughout the country.
The bureau is making changes to make the American Community Survey more reliable and to compensate for the decadal undercount. But Plyer wants to use local data such as utility records to improve those estimates.
“It’s something they’ve done historically, they did in the 70s and 80s, but for cost reasons they cut that down,” she said.
While the undercount of African Americans was no worse than it was in 2020, the undercount of Latinos was. The Trump administration’s effort to put a citizenship question on the census did not help.
“People of color and minorities in particular were afraid to give their information to the government,” said C. LeRoy Cavazos-Reyna, vice president of government and international affairs for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Cavazos-Reyna said the good news is that the private sector has a lot more data than 20 years ago to measure Latin American communities, especially as consumers.
But the bad news is that the undercount could still influence where potential employers decide to locate. Cavazos-Reyna is particularly concerned about the undercount in towns on the US-Mexico border.
“By having an undercount, many private sector companies might decide not to go to a community based on the availability of skilled workers there,” he said.
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