Census missed housing units in rural, Native American areas

Miscounts affect the distribution of the more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds annually based at least partly on census results

The Census Bureau released another report Tuesday on the accuracy of the 2020 U.S. Census.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Census Bureau released another report Tuesday on the accuracy of the 2020 U.S. Census. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 16, 2022 at 11:49am

Corrected 6:20 p.m. | The 2020 census missed the most housing units on Native American reservations and in other rural areas, according to the latest Census Bureau report released Tuesday.

The Census Bureau missed more than one in 20 housing units on Native American reservations and about one in 25 housing units in the most rural areas of the country, the report states.

The report is the last in a series of agency estimates about the quality of the troubled 2020 count, which recorded historic misses of minority populations.

Experts have said census miscounts will impact the distribution of the more than $1.5 trillion federal funds annually based at least in part on census results. Overall, the census counted within 0.25 percent of the country’s estimated 331 million people.

Tuesday’s report analyzed census results based on the type of housing units counted and showed the census as largely accurate for owner-occupied housing as well as small multi-unit buildings.

But the census missed those living in trailers and rural areas. While most of the country is counted through self response, the most rural areas without regular mail access or reliable internet access were counted through a different process.

There, census workers went to individual households to drop off census forms or count residents themselves, but missed about 4 percent of the housing units.

Census officials have previously said they faced significant challenges in counting people in rural parts of the country. The agency delayed in-person census operations for months due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and then cut them short in October.

The results from Tuesday’s report came from the post-enumeration survey, where the agency sends questionnaires to a sample of the nation’s households, asking them about demographic information, as well as whether they responded to the 2020 census. Agency officials then compare those responses to census results to help estimate how many people it missed in 2020.

The report also found the 2020 census overcounted housing units in several states, according to Tuesday’s report, including Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah. In a different measure of the 2020 count the agency released in a previous report, the agency estimated that there were overcounts overall in New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah.

Previous reports on the 2020 count showed it missed significant portions of the country’s minority populations, including almost one in 20 people identifying as Hispanic, the largest undercount for that population in decades.

In 2010, the agency missed about 1.5 percent of that population, less than 1 percent in 2000, and almost 5 percent in 1990.

The 2020 census missed about 3 percent of the Black population. In 2010, it missed 2 percent of that population, less than 2 percent in 2000 and 4.5 percent in 1990.

This report was corrected to accurately reflect the Census Bureau's measure of housing units.