Over half a million people in Texas were missed during the 2020 U.S. Census count, costing the state billions in federal funding and an additional U.S. House seat.
The national survey, which is completed once every decade, undercounted Texas’ population by just under 2%, or about 540,000 people. While the percentage seems small, it means big consequences for Texas. Texas A&M emeritus professor of sociology Dudley Poston calculated it equates to a $19 billion loss in federal funding and the loss of a third U.S. House seat.
Texas was one of five states with a significant undercount. Poston says partisan politics and the pandemic were contributing causes but that state leadership should have committed to a campaign that ensured the census was complete.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Could you put the undercount number – 1.92% — into context for us?
Dudley Poston: Well, the 1.92% really turns out to be about 540,000 or so people who are not counted from the state of Texas. More people were missed in Texas than in any other state.
How did this undercount happen?
A lot of things occurred. One happened back in 2017, 2018. President Trump tried to get a citizenship question onto the census. He also then tried to have undocumented people not participate. And I think perhaps that many Hispanic people felt intimidated and maybe didn’t respond. A second issue happened right around March or so of 2020. Census day is April the first. March or so of 2020, COVID came in and a lot of universities, including A&M, including UT-Austin, stopped having classes, did everything online till the end of the semester, and many students did not return to their campus residences after spring break.
But the important issue is that Trump messing around and the COVID epidemic issues only affected three or four states and did not affect 37 states because most of those states had big, “complete count” campaigns. California spent $151 million to make sure everybody in California was counted. Alabama did the same thing, and these states did not have undercounts.
How can you be so certain of this 1.92% undercount?
This is an estimated percentage undercount or overcount if you had one. And that’s based on what’s called the post enumeration survey, which is a survey done after the census is conducted. And it’s a survey of about 10,000 blocks. There are about 8 million blocks in the whole country, so it’s 10,000 blocks. All the people in those blocks are then asked, “where were you on census day.”
If you have this new statistical estimate, why not just use that number?
There we get into issues involving the constitution and people have to be directly counted. You can’t use estimates. You can’t use imputations. There’s a whole host of things involved that the constitutional people have to tell you more about.
So, what are the losses here?
The big political losses [are] we did not get a third new House seat. Virtually all research from 2016 on suggested that we should have. That would have raised Texas to 39 seats. Instead, we only got two. Minnesota ended up getting the very last seat and that seat should have gone to Texas.
The other big thing is the economic cost. Every year the United States allocates to the states $1.5 trillion in federal monies for a host of federal programs, Medicare, education, transportation and so forth. Texas, on average, gets about $100 billion in those federal monies a year. Now, if you take the 540,000 or so people who were not counted in Texas and multiply them by an estimate that we’ve come up with, about $3,500 per person missed, you get about $1.9 billion that Texas will not receive each year in federal money, multiplied by 10, $19 billion. That’s billion with a b that Texas won’t end up getting because of this undercount.