Think the Census undercount doesn’t matter? Think again

3rd May 2021

Arizona was the fastest-growing state in the nation in 2018, according to the American Community Survey’s “One-Year Estimate,” totaling 7,171,646 residents. Declining birthrates slowed the growth somewhat in 2019, but the Grand Canyon State was still among the fastest-growing states through July of that year, according to the Census Bureau. Fast forward to Census 2020. Three days prior to the politically accelerated Sept. 30 deadline, Arizona’s enumerated count was 96.4% (including a 32.9% self-response rate), which put Arizona near the bottom of U.S. states counting residents. In other words, an undercount was virtually guaranteed. So what, you ask? Well, consider the Census’ own calculations: “It’s estimated that up to $3,000 per person, per year is at stake for every Arizonan. That is more than $20 billion annually that helps support Arizona’s communities. In fact, for every Arizonan who does not respond to the census, the state stands to lose $887 in federal funding. Just a 1% undercount would represent a loss to the state of $62 million per year for a decade, for a total loss of $620 million.” Arizona's 2020 count was 242,398 lower than estimates for an undercount of 3.3%. A 3% undercount would result in a $1.86 billion loss in federal funds over the next decade. The exact undercount of Arizona has yet to be determined, but Arizona failed to gain a congressional seat due to population growth (with some demographers believing Arizona might even gain two). More importantly, Arizona failed to get its fair share of more than $675 billion allocated annually based on the Census count. An Arizona Republic news story chronicled the Census debacle, including a quote by me: “Gov. (Doug) Ducey was made aware by leaders of the state, especially Latino leaders, that this undercount was going to hurt Arizonans,” said Garcia, of Chicanos Por La Causa. Garcia said census outreach groups sent a letter to Ducey asking him to use his influence with Trump to extend the census deadline. “I went through every channel that I could to get that message to the governor,” Garcia said. It’s true. I was among the Latino leaders who sounded the alarm of a pending undercount and urged the governor and state legislators to respond to this looming emergency that would be felt by communities and families every day of every year for the next decade unless decisive and timely action was taken. Crickets as loud as cicadas with bullhorns was the response. We talked with the governor’s office behand the scenes. We later wrote him a letter we shared with the public. I even had a one-on-one conversation with the governor’s Census officer. All we were asking was that Governor Ducey urge then-President Donald Trump to adhere to the original deadline of Oct. 31. At the time, Governor Ducey was in favor with Trump, who had just named Ducey as co-chairman of the National Council of Governors. No such request was ever made. In an earlier blog calling for stepped-up leadership, I noted that this undercount would be part of Ducey’s legacy, long after he terms out of office next year. This Census was overtly politicized, with an intentional undercount of Latinos and other minorities. The pandemic alone justified an extended deadline. Former Census directors urged an extended deadline to prevent the undercount. But the Trump administration’s intentional undercount already was set in motion, beginning with a well-publicized threat of not counting individuals without documentation and a planted fear that filling out the Census could result in deportations. Despite court rulings halting the Trump orders, the damage was done. The Census was a policy decision by Arizona leaders, if not an exercise in partisan politics. As noted in The Arizona Republic story: An analysis of state legislature funding by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that Arizona’s legislature did not allocate funds for census outreach. Three bills that would have appropriated funding for census outreach by local governments and complete count committees failed in the legislature. Washington, which is the state with the next largest population to Arizona, appropriated nearly $15.5 million. Massachusetts, the state that comes after Arizona in resident population appropriated nearly $6.7 million. New York, a state that nearly avoided losing a district, appropriated $20 million. Minnesota, which narrowly held on to its seat appropriated more than $2 million. Blue states invested in the Census, while red states did not. As a result, the train wreck everyone knew was going to happen in Arizona, happened. Carnage from Arizona’s Census undercount will be lost federal funding for: • Education: National School Lunch Program, Head Start, and special education services • Healthcare: Medicare and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) • Public Works: Construction of highways, roads and streets and public transportation • Community Services: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), emergency response plans and non-profit agency services • Economic Development: Urban planning, location of new businesses and expansion of businesses, schools, hospitals and health care facilities. Some Arizonans without children and/or those who lack concern for others might think they won’t be personally affected by the Census undercount. Think again. Such short-sightedness could prove costly because many growth-related services that the allocated federal funds would have covered will still have to paid for. Ironically, such funding likely now will come from state revenues and higher Arizona taxes. Undercounts count. If you live in Arizona, you can count on that fact – and you will, every year for the next 10 years.

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