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Census undercounted Black, Latino populations; impact on DC yet to be seen

Data collected for the Census impacts the drawing of legislative maps and federal funding for schools and nutritional programs.

WASHINGTON — Editor's Note: The video above is from September 2020, when experts put out a warning call about what D.C.'s low response rate -- the District was in the bottom third of responses -- could mean for later funding. 

The U.S. Census revealed on Thursday that it likely undercounted communities of color across the United States. Now, some locals are worried about what impact that will have on the D.C. region.

In the U.S. Census’ 2020 Post-Enumeration Survey Estimation Report, it was determined that roughly 19 million people were likely missed in the count. The Census also said it undercounted Black, Latino, and Native American populations in the country, while it overcounted white and Asian populations.

The report said the 2020 survey faced several hurdles.

“The 2020 Census faced many challenges, such as conducting fieldwork during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report reads. “Other challenges to the 2020 Census included controversy around a proposed citizenship question, and changes in the duration of the Nonresponse Followup and other operations.”

Data collected from the Census helps determine how legislative districts are drawn. It also helps decide how much federal money local school districts and healthcare programs get.

Kimberly Perry serves as the executive director of DC Action, the District’s statewide child and youth advocacy organization. She said she’s worried D.C., which has a high population of Black and Latino residents, could suffer due to the Census’ undercount.

“The census only happens once every 10 years,” she said. “So, if we don't count a 2-year-old, our community will have less funding for education, childcare, and other services that I mentioned for an entire 10 years, which is most of that child's childhood.”

Perry added the entire situation is frustrating.

“In 2010, we had an undercount as well, although it was less dramatic,” she said. “And, so I think what makes this a bit more painful is that lots more people and lots more money was deployed in preparation for the 2020 count to make sure that we could count as many young children as possible. Clearly, the pandemic got in the way of that and so it just makes it that much harder to count our young children.”

The Census is expected to release more information regarding its count later this year. So, the exact scope of how this might affect communities in the D.C. region has yet to be determined.

Both D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Office of Planning have not responded to a request for comment regarding the Census’ undercount.

Perry says she’s hopeful the federal leaders will address the issues with Census data collection.

“I think what we expect the Biden administration to do is to take a closer look and to see if there are other ways an analysis can be done,” she said. “For instance, birth records, and death records are often a part of the census equation and so there may be opportunities to provide other ways to analyze population numbers and demographic numbers.”

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