The U.S. Census estimates that 559,593 Texans were undercounted in 2020

Taken down by politics and the pandemic — and with just a last-minute investment in state funding — the 2020 census likely undercounted the Texas population by about 2%, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

The once-a-decade national census put Texas’ official population at 29,145,505, after gaining the most residents of any state and gaining two additional congressional seats in the past decade. In a recount analysis using household survey results, the bureau estimated that for people living in Texas households — a slightly smaller population than the total population — the census could find no more than half a million residents. That’s equivalent to missing out on the entire population of Lubbock, Laredo, and then some.

The undercount means many residents were missing from the data used by state legislatures over the past year to redraw congressional and legislative districts to allocate political power. For the next decade, undercounting will also feed into the data used by governments and industry to plan and deliver communities.

Texas is just one of six states where the bureau found statistically significant undercounting. The others were Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

The census feeds into the daily lives of Texans and helps determine the distribution of millions of dollars in funds and services. It plays a role in decisions about where grocery stores will be built, how many dollars will be needed to adequately fund early childhood programs, which roads will be built or repaired, and whether schools will be large enough.

The undercount follows the state’s Republican leadership’s refusal to allocate significant funding to track an accurate count before the census and rejects proposals by Democratic lawmakers to create a statewide public affairs committee and provide millions of dollars in grants for local public affairs.

Even as other states poured millions of dollars into census campaigns, Texas left local governments, nonprofits, and even churches to try to reach the millions of Texans who fall into the category of people historically overlooked by the census—immigrants , people living in poverty and non-English speakers to name a few.

Already without government funding, local outreach and outreach efforts that depended on face-to-face were halted by the coronavirus pandemic when they were just ramping up in spring 2020. The bureau extended the count by a few months, but the Trump administration later accelerated the deadline.

As Texas fell behind on the count compared to other states, organizers struggled to reach groups at highest risk of being missed as the pandemic continued to ravage their communities. Just in the 11th hour, Texas quietly launched a sudden pursuit of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to boost the count with federal COVID relief funds.

At this point, just a month before counting, the self-response rate for Texas households had barely surpassed 60%. When census workers personally followed up on households that didn’t respond, the percentage of households surveyed increased, but Texas lagged far behind several other states and several percentage points behind the national average.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state undercount is likely to further anger political observers who hoped the census would help further increase the state’s political clout. Before the 2020 census, Texas should win three congressional seats. However, it ended up gaining just two after the state’s 2020 population was about 1% lower than previous estimates.

Texas was third in line among states close to winning another seat. Only New York and Ohio, both rated as surplus by the Census Bureau, came close.

The Census Bureau’s analysis also uncovered statistically significant overcounting in Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Utah.

Because it is based on comparing the 2020 census with a subsequent population survey, undercounting in Texas is more of a statistical guesswork and has a margin of error. In the case of Texas, the Bureau estimates that the undercount could have been as large as 3.27% or as small as 0.57%. By restricting its analysis to people living in households, it omits people living in college dormitories, prisons, and other group housing.

The bureau did not report any statistically significant undercounts after the 2010 census.

The bureau will not provide more detailed undercount numbers to determine which areas of the state or residents were omitted from the census. But earlier this year it was reported that the communities were not equally excluded. Nationally, the census significantly undercounted communities of color, with Hispanic residents missing at a rate of 4.99% — more than triple the rate from the 2010 census. Black residents were missing at a rate of 3.3%, and Native Americans with undercounted a rate of 5.64%.

The 2020 census also had a larger undercount of children under the age of 5 than any census since 1970.

Even with the undercensus data at hand, correcting the census results will be a major task and no changes will be allowed for political redistribution. States and localities have until next year to file lawsuits with the bureau, but so far no Texas municipality has appealed its local census.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. The U.S. Census estimates that 559,593 Texans were undercounted in 2020

Dais Johnston

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