The Census Bureau has released its first report on the accuracy of the latest national head count that's used to distribute political representation and federal funding for the next decade.



A report out today finds a racial gap in the census numbers used to reset democracy in the U.S. The Census Bureau estimates that, nationwide, it undercounted Black people, Latinos and Native Americans while overcounting white people and Asian Americans. These numbers are used to redraw voting districts as well as redistribute congressional seats and Electoral College votes. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us now to explain more. Hey, Hansi.


CHANG: So wait. Why didn't the 2020 census get accurate counts by race and ethnicity? Do we know?

WANG: Well, this is a longstanding flaw with how the government tries to count every person living in the country. And, you know, past research suggests that one element here is that there are some homeowners who identify as white and not Latino, have more than one home and end up getting counted more than once. And for people of color, there's generally higher levels of distrust of the government and lack of understanding of the purpose of the census. And on top of that, 2020 came with the chaos of COVID-19 and interference from former President Donald Trump's administration. And what you're left with for Latinos, for example, is a net undercount rate that more than tripled compared to 10 years ago. And, you know, during a news conference today, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said he thinks the pandemic was a major factor. Let's listen to what he said.


ROBERT SANTOS: We had families of all races and ethnicities, but especially among Latinos who were really suffering during this period. They were out of work. There were issues of housing stability. There were hunger issues and so forth. And I think that that played a role in the ability to secure participation.

WANG: I should add the Census Bureau said today it's not clear how well Pacific Islanders were counted.

CHANG: I know, Hansi, that you have been reporting over the years on civil rights organizations that tried very hard to get out the count in 2020. What kind of reactions are you hearing from them to these findings today?

WANG: Well, to a certain extent, many groups are not surprised, especially after the Trump administration failed to add a question about U.S. citizenship status that stirred up a lot of controversy. And after the Trump administration made a last-minute decision to end counting early, you know, the National Urban League sued the Trump administration to try to stop counting from being cut short. And today its president and CEO, Marc Morial, said the Urban League is looking into possibly going back to court with a lawsuit. Let's listen to what he said.


MARC MORIAL: So we've talked about voter suppression. Now we see population suppression. And when you tie them together, it is the poisonous tree of seeking to diminish the distribution of power in this nation on a fair and equitable basis.

CHANG: Well, then, I mean, at this point, Hansi, what can be done to try to correct these census results?

WANG: Well, keep in mind, these results have already been used to determine each state's new share of seats in the House of Representatives, Electoral College votes.

CHANG: Yeah.

WANG: And they're being used to redraw voting districts across the country. But one of the Census Bureau officials did tell me today that they're looking into doing research on how to use these undercount and overcount rates to make population estimates more reflective of the country's actual demographics. And, you know, there's a lot of money at stake here. Census data is used to guide how some $1.5 trillion a year are distributed for public services.

CHANG: That is NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang. Thank you so much, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome, Ailsa.

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