Confusing and conflicting explanations provide few answers while raising numerous questions
By Hazel Trice Edney
A special report released by the National Urban League reveals that the U. S. Census Bureau omitted at least 3.7 million African-Americans from its 2010 count, nearly five times the 800,000 “undercount” that the bureau has long reported.
Largely due to the Coronavirus, the sluggish response to the 2020 Census count now underway is on track for the same or even worse results, NUL predicts. The organization says the Black community stands to lose billions of dollars and significant political power if something is not done quickly to speed up and establish a more accurate count.
“As a gauge, last decade, 9% of Black people in the U.S. (approximately 3.7 million people), were missed in the 2010 Census – an “omission” rate higher than any other racial or ethnic group,” says NUL’s 12-page “State of the 2020 Census” report released June 17. “Preliminary assessments of
2020 Census household response rates to date, portend the potential loss of billions of dollars in federal funding allocations, power and political representation for the Black population, if nothing is done to stop this trend.”
Using the mapping tool of the City University of New York (CUNY), the NUL reports that “currently, approximately 25% of households residing in predominantly Black areas are in the bottom 20% of response rates (below 50%),” so far.
Among the report’s key findings:
Young Black Children are poised to experience historic undercounts in the 2020 Census…Seven out of 10 black and brown children 0-5 years old were not counted in the 2010 Census.
Several large cities and jurisdictions with predominate or large Black populations trail their state response rates by 10 or more percentage points (i.e., St. Louis, Mo., Los Angeles, Calif., Miami, Fla., and Detroit, Mich.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s enumeration of persons experiencing homelessness has not occurred.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s difficulty in rescheduling the enumeration of college and university students and conducting outreach targeting these communities with clear and concise guidance, will impact local communities and the black count overall, if not corrected. An undercount of the Black population in southern states will impact the overall Black count in America. One U.S. Census Regional Census Center is responsible for enumerating seven states (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana), with significant Black populations in the 2020 Census.
The Census count started April 1. People can respond by phone, mail or online. Through July, August, September, and October, Census workers will escalate their attempts to count college students; plus anyone who has not responded by going to homes until the end of October.
Civil rights organizations have gone into high gear with an educational campaign pushing the importance of an accurate Census count to the Black community and other communities of color. Yet, it appears that the extent of the Census omissions in 2010 is now being widely reported for the first time.
“The U.S. Census Bureau and the current Administration must do all that it can to ensure an accurate count of the Black population by reallocating media resources and outreach to address these circumstances,” says NUL President/CEO Marc H. Morial in a release accompanying the report. “Historically, African Americans have been undercounted each decade. Approximately 3.7 million African Americans were entirely uncounted in the 2010 Census. The 2020 Census raises new risks and uncertainties that put an already vulnerable Black count at extreme risk.”
The 3.7 million omission appears even more extreme when compared to numbers used by other civil rights groups. A simple Google search turned up a March 2019 “Fact Sheet <>” led by the Leadership Conference Education Fund (a subsidiary of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights) which was also signed by the Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and by the Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative.
The Fact Sheet states, “The 2010 Census undercounted the African-American population by more than 800,000.” The “800,000” number is footnoted and attributed to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau press release announcing estimates of undercounts.
Yet another number has been used by the NAACP for the 2010 Census undercount. Page 7 of a federal lawsuit filed two years ago by the NAACP against the U. S. Census Bureau, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and President Donald Trump states, “The 2010 Census did not account for 1.5 million black and Hispanic residents, which would be enough people to fill two Congressional districts.”
NUL’s omission number of “3.7 million”; the Leadership Conference’s undercount of “more than 800,000” and the NAACP’s combined “undercount of 1.5 million Black and Hispanic” residents. This scenario raises the question. Which one is correct?
In response to questions from the Trice Edney News Wire, the Census Bureau and the civil rights organizations sought to explain the conflicting numbers. For the most part, the explanations remain fuzzy at best, opening yet more questions than providing answers. The confusion apparently comes down to the vague difference between the terms “net undercount” and “omissions”.
Census consultant, Terri Ann Lowenthal, said she is the source of the NUL’s 3.7 million omission number. She emailed a one paged document in which she listed the “net undercount” of Black people as 827,152 (2.06 percent) and “Omissions” as 3,734,229 (9.3 percent).
As for the NAACP’s lawsuit, which says the “2010 Census did not account for 1.5 million black and Hispanic residents”, Lowenthal’s document appears to dispute that number. “Many news articles and even some fact sheets have incorrectly cited a figure of ‘1.5 million minorities missed in the 2010 Census,'” Lowenthal says in a footnote. “From what I can tell, that number is loosely derived from the national net undercount of Blacks (~ 827,000) and Hispanics (of any race) (~764,000) in the 2010 Census.”
In another email, Beth Lynk, Census campaign director for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which reported the “more than 800,000” undercount in its fact sheet, recommended a book, titled “Differential Undercounts in the U. S. Census. Who is Missed?”
Lynk described the book as a “great resource on omissions.” But the “Terminology” chapter of that book, by social demographer William P. O’Hare, clearly implies that the Census use of the term “net undercount” to describe people who were not counted is erroneous.
O’Hare’s book states, “It is important to recognize that the net undercount does not reflect the number of people missed even though the term undercount is often used to suggest this. As stated earlier, net undercounts reflect a balance of people missed and people counted more than once or otherwise included erroneously,” O’Hare writes.
Jeri Green, consultant and senior advisor to the NUL on Census matters, said in an interview that its cited 3.7 million Black “omissions” from the 2010 Census is accurate without question.
Green is a former senior advisor for civic engagement in the office of the Census Bureau director. She is also a specialist on engagement with civil rights organizations and historically undercounted populations as they relate to critical 2020 Census issues.
“The cold-blooded straight up number of Black people that were missed in the 2010 Census is that number, 3.7 million,” Green says. “It’s a number that you won’t see out there. But I can give you reference after reference of 3.7 million Black people who were missed in the Census – using the Census Bureau’s own figures.”
Meanwhile, the NUL’s State of the 2020 Census” report has sounded an alarm, apparently using the words “undercount” and “omissions” interchangeably.
“A census undercount of any population in the U.S. would have far-reaching implications. For Black populations, the consequences would be devastating, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19 which has exposed deep systemic and underlying economic, wealth and health disparities within African American communities. Similarly, as racially-motivated police brutality in the Black community continues with deadly effect, an accurate census count helps ensure fair political representation and federal funding to address these concerns,” Morial says in the Executive Summary of the report. “The purpose of this State of the 2020 Census report is to ‘sound the alarm’ about the current status of the Black census count. Over the past three months of 2020 Census operations (starting last March 12th for most of the United States), the National Urban League has observed low response rates across heavily populated Black localities – both urban and rural. As a
contributing factor, COVID-19 has disrupted Census operations off and on, for the entire nation. A full, fair, and accurate 2020 Census count remains is imperative as we rebuild our communities in a post COVID-19 environment.”