Ever wanted to know how many people lived in your state, city, or county? It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that this information comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, which sends out a census every ten years to gauge changes in our populations.
It’s also fairly common knowledge that the number of those populations helps, in large part, determine the number of representatives any given state in the US is assigned. Per the Constitution, the more people who live in certain states, the more representation they receive in our capital.
But what if the data from the census was wrong? And no, I’m not just talking about a few hundred people not taking the census.
I’m talking about thousands of individuals either not being counted or being counted more than once.
Well, according to a recent study, and one that has been conducted after a census for decades now, that’s exactly what happened with the 2020 census.
As usual, in the months and years following such a nationwide census, the Census Bureau conducts its Post Enumeration Survey. This uses sampling to determine just how accurate the census was.
And this go-round, some states were undercounted. According to the survey, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Illinois, Tennessee, and Texas were all undercounted. Arkansas has the highest percentage of people undercounted, with about five percent of the population apparently not being counted. Texas had the lowest, coming in at almost two percent.
Now, you might have noticed something that all of these states have in common. They are all red or Republican-leaning states. Well, all except Illinois, which also was undercounted by about two percent.
Maybe. Then again, it was also reported that the same number of states were overcounted. And all of those happen to be blue or left-leaning states…
As the survey reported, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Delaware, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Utah, and Rhode Island were all overcounted.
Now, to be clear, Utah and Ohio are actually red states. However, much like was the case with Illinois being included with the undercounted red states mentioned above, these just also happened to be the states that were the least overcounted.
Hawaii was the most overcounted, by some 6.8 percent, Delaware and Rhode Island by about five percent. And then there is red-leaning Ohio, which was only overcounted by about 1.5 percent.
As I talked about before, the kicker is that these population counts don’t just let us know how many people live in any certain area. They also determine how we are represented in our nation’s capital. And that means that for several states, the current amount of representation in Washington isn’t really accurate.
Based on the survey, states like Texas, Tennessee, and Florida should have received an additional representative each. On the opposite end, overcounted ones like Minnesota and Rhode Island should have lost one.
Now to be clear, Texas and Florida already gained a couple of seats in 2020 based on the inaccurate census data. Texas got two more, and Florida got one more. But based on actual population data, Texas should have gotten three and Florida two.
Of course, it’s too late for any of this new information to matter.
According to NPR, a 1999 Supreme Court ruling made changing the number of state representatives based on sampling data illegal. And so, while the survey definitely should mean something, as far as how our states are represented for the next eight years, it won’t. We will have to wait until the 2030 census data is in for Congress and the number of its members to be reapportioned again.
The question in the meantime is, how did this happen?
Were census staff members to blame? Did politically motivated employees have anything to do with it? Or was it the fault of the states?
One Census Bureau employee and a former chair of its scientific advisory committee, Allison Plyer, told NPR it could be a state problem. Plyer says that Texas specifically could have done more to help the census results be more accurate.
But you’ll note that Texas had the lowest number of those undercounted. It’s also almost uncanny that the same number of overcounts and undercounts occurred in opposing political states…
In any case, it should definitely be something to watch out for come 2030.