The Census Bureau announced Thursday that 14 states had population miscounts as part of its 2020 survey of the United States’ population. The discrepancy is big enough for the agency to label it “statistically significant.”
The bureau’s “Post-Enumeration Survey” is conducted to gauge the accuracy of the latest census data. The PES found significant undercounts in six states: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. While it found overcounts in eight states: Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah.
The bureau estimated the count could be off by nearly a million people in some states. For instance, Texas was undercounted by at least 547,968 people, and as many as 933,258. New York was overcounted by 673,896 people, but it could be as many as 977,541.
An accurate census is crucial for the United States as the numbers are used to allocate trillions of dollars in federal funding to states. The data is also used to give states the proper number of elected representatives in Congress, which in turn decides the number of electoral votes given in a presidential election. On average it’s one U.S. House seat and electoral vote for every 750,000 people.
A miscount this large means a state could lose a share of its Medicaid funding or may have one more or one less congressional district than it should. It will remain that way for the next decade until the next population count is conducted.
There were several factors that contributed to the inaccuracies, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump administration ending the count early. In addition, the 2020 Census faced scrutiny because then-President Donald Trump called for the addition of a citizenship question on the survey. The question was ultimately not included after the Supreme Court ruled against it.
“Achieving an accurate count for all 50 states and DC is always a difficult endeavor, and these results suggest it was difficult again in 2020, particularly given the unprecedented challenges we faced,” Census Bureau Director Robert L. Santos stated. “We know there is still more work to do in planning future censuses to ensure equitable coverage across the United States and we are working to overcome any and all obstacles to achieve that goal.”
The New York Times predicted in September 2020 that the count could be flawed, noting the Trump administration’s decision to end the count before the Census Bureau reached its goal of receiving responses from 99 percent of addresses on its list.
“Our analysis shows that those undercounts will cheat some states — mostly Republican — out of federal funding and one state out of a congressional seat,” the publication wrote.
Tim Kennel, who led the PES, said undercounts occurred when people refused to respond to the survey and missed out on follow up efforts from the agency. While overcounts could be due to those who have second homes, or children of parents who were counted as part of two households.