Everybody should be counted

The 2020 Census has big challenges, especially in Texas.

But even two years out from the 2020 count, local officials, demographers, community organizers and advocates say they are worried the census could be particularly tough to carry out in Texas this go-around.

They are bracing for challenges both practical — Hurricane Harvey displacement, internet accessibility and fewer funds with which to knock on doors — and political, namely anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears that a citizenship question will be included in the census questionnaire. Those issues aren’t insurmountable, officials say, but they will probably make Texas, which is already hard to count, even tougher to enumerate.

An accurate census is critical to the state. It is used to determine how many representatives Texas is entitled to elect to Congress. And the Texas Legislature and local governments rely on the data to redraw corresponding political boundaries.

The census also serves as a roadmap for the distribution of billions of federal dollars to the state and local communities, including funding for low-income housing, medical assistance and transportation projects.

But those working toward an accurate count in Texas are, in many ways, starting from behind. Massive in both size and population, Texas is home to millions of residents who fall into the categories of people who pose the biggest challenges for the headcount — immigrants, college students, children younger than 5 years old, to name a few.

After the 2010 census count, the U.S. Census Bureau found that most Texas residents live in areas that may be harder to count. Using a “low response score,” which is based on the likelihood that residents will not self-respond to a questionnaire, the bureau found that most Texas residents live in census tracts — geographic areas that include 1,200 to 8,000 residents — that exceed the national average for low response scores.

That’s particularly evident in areas with large shares of Hispanics and residents living in poverty, which are prevalent across the state.

“Certainly, we have populations that are hard to count — people whose first language isn’t English, people who have lower levels of educational attainment, people who move frequently,” state demographer Lloyd Potter said. “You have both recent immigrants and then, certainly, people who are unauthorized who are going to be wary of anyone who is knocking on their door and asking questions.”

That’s the chief concern among those working toward an accurate count in Texas.

Almost 5 million immigrants live in the state, and it’s estimated that about two-thirds are noncitizens — legal permanent residents, immigrants with another form of legal status or undocumented immigrants. Additionally, more than 1 million Texans who are U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

Local officials, advocates and demographers for months have expressed grave concerns about the reception the 2020 census will receive among Texas immigrants who have likely followed years-long heated national and local debates over undocumented immigrants, immigration-enforcement laws like the one passed by the Texas Legislature last year and immigration crackdowns.

“Anyone close to this issue is really concerned. It’s an anti-immigrant environment,” said Ryan Robinson, demographer for Austin, which is home to 167,000 immigrants. “It’s always hard to count immigrants, but this is really going to be a tough issue.”

The fact that preparations for the Census are being done now by the understaffed and under-competent Trump administration isn’t making this any easier. Remember that the reason Texas got those four extra Congressional seats in the 2010 Census was our rapid growth due in large part to immigration. It would be quite ironic if we missed out on getting a seat or two because of a Census undercount that was the result of Republican legislative priorities. The Trib, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, and Erica Greider have more.

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7 Responses to Everybody should be counted

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Asking whether people are citizens or not was previously asked, as late as 2010, I think. This isn’t a new question, and it is an important one. ICE needs to know what areas to focus their resources on, and sanctuary cities and states shouldn’t gain representation and political power by breaking the law.

    Isn’t that what they say, “crime shouldn’t pay?” Why make harboring illegals pay?

    As to the “green card holders and TPS folks are scared,” I don’t think so. Those folks are here legally. Why would they be afraid? A: They wouldn’t. Red herring alert.

  2. Ross says:

    Bill, the question hasn’t been asked in the decennial census since 1950. Interim surveys have asked the question , but not if every household. Under counting the Census has bad impacts, especially for planning for schools and such, where immigration status is not allowed to be used for determining education eligibility.

    From your comment, I assume you support increasing the ICE budget to 100 billion dollars a year to fund door to door sweeps for immigration violators. That would include you, on the day you get stopped but left your new National ID card at home.

  3. Bill Daniels says:


    Ramp up deportations and you don’t need to build new schools, as space opens up. And what I would prefer is we divert $100M from the defense budget to defend our homeland, build the wall, and repel the irregular army of illegal aliens that is taking over our country.

    Reconquista is happening. Eisenhower won that war once, we can do it again, we just need the will to do it.

    Illegal? OUT!

  4. Mainstream says:

    If asking a citizenship question on the new census form results in more reliable data about the number of adult citizens in each political district, it will be helpful to make more transparent to political commentators and journalists that certain of our districts look Hispanic on paper, but at the ballot box have a much higher proportion of black or (non-Hispanic) white voters. I regularly read articles that x% of some community is Hispanic but only y% of elected officials are Hispanic. These new data should allow us to show that 1/2 x% of the adult citizens in the district, explaining more fully why only y% of the elected officials are. (Of course in a first past the post electoral system, 49% of the district may yield 0% of elected officials, too.)

  5. Ross says:

    The citizenship data is available from the periodic American Community Surveys, which get data from 3.5 million households per year. There’s no need to ask on the decennial census.

  6. Mainstream says:

    Ross, the survey data is not reliable enough at the city block, or even neighborhood level to use for redistricting. In fact, I was once told by Texas Legislative personnel that the data was not reliable for city council districts.

    Advocacy groups for Latino voting interests like the uncertainty, and use it to their advantage in court when insisting that additional districts should be gerrymandered to maximize Latino voting strength, or that existing districts violate protected interests.

  7. Kevin Hoffman says:

    The Trump plan also fails to count the LGBTQ community. This failer we cost us funding for the LGBTQ community in: senior housing, specialized healthcare that can be unique to the LGBTQ community, understanding about the cause of some of our homelessness, and will push the movement back. The LGBTQ community must also be counted!

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