The blog of the Urban Institute
October 2, 2020

The 2020 Census Deadline Was Just Extended, but so Far, Texas Has Failed to Ensure Its Latinx Residents Are Accurately Counted

October 2, 2020

Texans are likely to be undercounted in the 2020 Census, primarily because Latinx communities will be underrepresented. In June 2019, our research found that the 2020 Census could undercount as many as 577,000 Texans—including 3.5 percent of Latinx people. But a damaging combination of unanticipated factors have made the risk of undercounting in Latinx communities far worse than initially projected, including the following:

Based on the most current data from the US Census Bureau, Latinx communities in Texas are at risk of losing political representation and economic opportunity because of an unprecedentedly large undercount.

We know from past decennial censuses that low self-response rates heighten the risk and magnitude of a final undercount. And we know that communities of color, immigrant communities and tribal lands historically record the lowest self-response rates.  As of September 24, the Texas self-response rate stood at 62 percent, well below the national rate of 66.3 percent. In 2010, the final self-response rate for Texas was 64.4 percent, leading to significant undercounts (PDF) of residents of large metropolitan areas, rural counties, and communities along the Texas-Mexico border.

Unfortunately, 2020 self-response rates are again particularly poor in southwest Texas communities along the Rio Grande Valley and Mexican border, which are home to many Latinx people, as well as in eastern Texas, where there are high concentrations of Black residents. In many of these counties, the self-response rate is more than 10 percentage points below where it was in 2010. On September 24, the average self-response rate in majority-Latinx counties was 8 percentage points lower (at 43 percent) than other counties (51 percent).

Census non-response rates in Texas, by county

An undercount would jeopardize Congressional representation and federal funding for the whole state, putting government seats and allocations for housing, community centers, schools, roads, parks, utilities, fire stations, and health clinics at risk. Importantly, the algorithms for federal funding and Congressional apportionment are relative, meaning a state receives funding and congressional seats based on the size of its population in comparison with other states.

According to the Texas Demographic Center, Texas is estimated to have gained 4.5 million people (PDF) between 2010 and 2020, just over half of whom are Latinx people. Given this growth, the state should gain congressional seats after 2020, provided a fair and accurate 2020 Census occurs. In fact, the Urban Institute’s forecasts of state populations by race and ethnicity suggest that Texas could gain as many as six additional seats—more than any other state—without an undercount.


Projected Congressional Seats Gained after 2020 Census Based on Urban Institute’s Population Estimates and an Accurate Count

State

Current seats

2020 estimate

Change 2010-20

Texas

32

38

6

Florida

25

29

4

Arizona

8

10

2

North Carolina

12

14

2

Colorado

7

8

1

Georgia

13

14

1

Montana

1

2

1

Nevada

3

4

1

Oregon

5

6

1

South Carolina

6

7

1

Washington

9

10

1

Source: Source: Author's calculations from Urban Institute 2020 population projects and "Computing Apportionment," US Census Bureau, last updated March 30, 2020.

Without an accurate count, the whole state will suffer, but Latinx communities will feel the loss of political power and economic opportunity most acutely. Federal and state legislative redistricting efforts will provide the more accurately counted communities with more political representation than deserved, affording undercounted communities of color less than they deserve.

Given the high stakes, the Texas government should have every incentive to support an accurate count. But Texas only recently provided $15 million to support the 2020 Census enumeration effort, paltry compared with the $187 million California devoted to an accurate count. Texas is also one of only three states without a Complete Count Committee, which helps ensure an accurate census count by creating public awareness about the census and building trust within communities.

The Texas lawmakers who shut down funding bills to support an accurate census count have not provided justification, but it is not the first time the state has left communities of color at a disadvantage. In 1949, the Texas legislature enacted major education reforms that replaced the state’s per capita funding system with one based on each school district’s ability to raise its own revenue. In the late 1950s, the Texas Education Agency argued it was not responsible for the integration (PDF) of its school districts, despite federal orders. And more recently, state legislators chose not to expand Medicaid, even though 61 percent of uninsured people in the state are Latinx, and the state lost $114.2 billion in federal funding as a result.

Texas is one of the most diverse states, with the second-largest Latinx population (11.5 million) in the country. The state is home to nearly 20 percent of the entire country’s Latinx population—a population at risk of congressional underrepresentation and underfunding from the federal government because the state failed to ensure a complete and accurate census count.

Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

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