Report Predicts 2020 Census Could Undercount Millions of Blacks and Hispanics

A report from the Urban Institute, Assessing Miscounts in the 2020 Census, estimates that the 2020 Census could undercount the U.S. population by 0.3% to 1.2%, representing an undercount of 900,000 to 4.1 million people. The report projects an undercount of black residents ranging from 1.1 to 1.7 million people and of Hispanic residents ranging from 1.2 to 2.2 million people. The report also projects an overcount of white residents ranging from 67,000 to 1.5 million people.

The 2020 Census faces significant challenges, including underfunded preparation, undertested new techniques like relying on internet responses and using administrative records from federal agencies and other third parties, and a potential citizenship question. There are concerns about Hispanic/Latinx participation due the citizenship question and immigrants’ fears about responding to the Census even if the question is excluded.

The authors estimated miscounts under three different scenarios. Under a low-risk scenario, the 2020 Census would perform similarly to the 2010 Census. The undercount under this scenario is projected to be nearly 900,000. Under a medium-risk scenario, the 2020 Census would perform as forecasted by the Census Bureau. The population would be undercounted by an estimated 2.8 million, largely due to low household self-response rates. Under a high-risk scenario, the household response rate would be in the lower range of the Census Bureau’s predicted response rates, and concerns about the citizenship question would lower the participation of the Hispanic population even further. The projected undercount is 4.1 million people under this scenario. The authors point out that self-response rates have been declining over time and the administration’s position on immigration may suppress participation by hard-to-reach groups even further.

Young children under the age of 5 face a projected undercount ranging from 943,000 to 1.3 million, which represents 4.6 to 6.3 percent of their total population. Blacks face a projected undercount ranging from 1.1 to 1.7 million people, representing 2.4 to 3.7 percent of their total population, and Hispanics face a projected undercount of 1.2 to 2.2 million people, representing 2.0 to 3.6 percent of their total population.

Undercounts can have a significant impact on states and communities, because government funding allocations are often based on population estimates from the U.S. Census. The decennial Census also determines the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives to each state, which could be distorted by significant undercounts. The report emphasizes that when hard-to-reach populations are undercounted, communities do not get a fair political voice or fair share of federal funding.

Assessing Miscounts in the 2020 Census is available at:

Interactive data by demographics and states are available at: