The deadline to be counted in the 2020 census is 5 a.m. Texas time, Friday morning. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a shutdown of the census count two weeks earlier than originally scheduled.
Though the Census Bureau said that as of Wednesday, 99.9% of housing units in the United States have been accounted for, some demographers and advocates for a fuller count question those numbers.
Lila Valencia is a senior demographer for the State Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She told Texas Standard that the Census Bureau previously said it needed until the end of October to complete an accurate count, due in part to COVID-19.
“Anything shorter than that really concerns us,” Valencia said. “That data quality might not be what it should be for the U.S. and for Texas.”
Two constitutionally mandated deadlines affect the timeline for the decennial census, Valencia said. First, the apportionment file must be given to the president’s office, and second, the redistricting files must be provided to state governments. To give the Census Bureau the time it said it needed, Congress would have had to extend the deadlines. Since it didn’t, the court ruled that the count must end in order for the deadlines to be met.
Valencia said the 99.9% number touted by the Census Bureau doesn’t indicate that many households have been fully enumerated, only that the bureau has identified them.
“It doesn’t mean anything on the quality of the data,” Valencia said.
She said the 62.6% of households that have been counted via self-response represents high-quality census data.
“That is lower for the state of Texas in 2020 than it was in the last census,” she said.
An example of the uncertainty created by incomplete data is the potential for two to three new congressional seats in Texas.
“There are studies out of Texas A&M that show that the threshold to gain that additional third seat [is] very slim,” Valencia said. “It’s an undercount of about 200,000 people.”
Census undercounts usually miss people of color, people in or near poverty and those who speak languages other than English, she said.
You can fill out the census for your household at census2020.gov, or you can mail your census form. But it must be postmarked by Oct. 15.