Low Response to Census Could Have Consequences in Mississippi

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MISSISSIPPI (WCBI) – The 2020 Census is less than a year away, but the Census Bureau is already putting out the word.

Urban Institute Researchers out of Washington, D.C., say it’s becoming more challenging to count the nation’s population because people are more reluctant to answer the Census.

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Although the Census Bureau and its employees work hard to ensure an accurate count, the Urban Institute says there’s a miscount of the country’s population, including in Mississippi.

Researchers say the 2020 Census is expected to perform below expectations for several reasons.

The Institute says four-million people could be under counted nationally in the upcoming Census.

Here in Mississippi, she says that number could be in the tens of thousands.

The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., researches policy related to social economic issues in the country to inform better decision making.

The Institute’s research projects that the overall population in Mississippi could potentially be under-counted by nearly 40,000 people, and according to Senior Research Associate Diana Elliott, a group that can’t speak up for itself is the most likely to be missed.

“What we found is it that when we are looking at the 2020 Census and the potential for miscounts, we see that there is a risk for a significant undercount in Mississippi, particularly among young children.”

Elliott says over 6 percent of children under 5 could be missed and that could have a long lasting impact.

“The next 10 years of funding for schools, for communities, for infrastructure related to supporting those families is not being fully funded and those communities don’t get their fair share of the money, so it’s really important that everyone is counted and that people are not missed. 6 1/2% undercount of young children is quite high.”

She says an undercount affects every segment of the population.

“It’s across the board, but I’ll say that young children tend to be missed in higher numbers among the black population and among Hispanic and Latinx populations and that’s really because those populations tend to be undercounted generally. We find that White, Non-Hispanic people in this country may actually be over counted.”

The researcher says the state’s African American population has an undercount of 3.4% and the Hispanic, Latinx population is around 3.6%.

“When you look at the total population of, you know, we are talking over 1-million people in Mississippi, who identify as being black, so you know, if you think about 3.4% of them being missed, that’s you know, 30,000 people or so, if I’m doing the math correctly, so that’s a lot of people to be missed in the overall count.”

The numbers also have a lasting influence at the ballot box.

“What happens in the end, is that the Census counts do help and sort of inform redistricting and that redistricting happens every 10 years, so again, if you have a significant undercount of the population, that redistricting is based on not the best numbers.”

Elliott says the Census has identified a number of factors that can lead to the undercount.

“If you have people who are renters, who move around, maybe you have families where some members of the family come in, they stay, but they are not necessarily long-term household residents. That really contributes to the problems of sort of getting an accurate count.”

Another reason is confusion.

“Confusion about the forms is one of the reasons, so they speculate that young children are missed at higher numbers is that there is confusion about, ‘Do I count this child, if they are under the age of 1?’ ‘Do I consider them a member of a household, if their mom and child are staying here just temporarily?’ ”

Elliott says one of the concerns with the 2020 Census is the potential for the citizenship question being on the form because it could have a big impact on people answering it.

Elliott also says the key to all of this is participation.

We reached out to the Census Bureau to see if we could speak to local Census workers, but no one was available for an interview.

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