Fishkind Conversations: Census Undercount Would Have A Big Impact On Florida
The U.S. Census aims to count the entire population of the country, at the location where each person usually lives. it includes citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants. But the Census Bureau said it might not be able to hire all of the 500,000 enumerators it needs to make a full count.
The census determines the number of seats each state gets in the US House of Representatives, and it's used to set federal funding for state and local governments. That's about $700 billion in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.
Economic analyst Hank Fishkind, of Fishkind Litigation Services, tells 90.7's Matthew Peddie that an under count would have an impact on business too.
Hank Fishkind: Businesses use the census to decide where to build new offices and factories and stores. And it creates jobs. developers use it to determine where they want to build new houses and where they want to develop new real estate. Governments use it for public safety, emergency preparedness. And residents use the census to promote various legislation, quality of life issues.
Matthew Peddie: Let me just unpack that a little bit, though, Hank, because if people know that there could be an undercount and you're a business, you're not going to just go ahead and say I'm basing my business decisions on what's in the census, right? You're going to build in some of that kind of fuzziness to decisions you take.
HF: Well, you would think so but it doesn't really work that way. People take the census as gospel, and the census is really very accurate on a national scale. The error rate, according to a review of the 2010 census was only six-tenths of 1%. The problem is that average really obscures a lot of fundamental and important under counts of certain populations that affect certain states very differently.
MP: So what are the estimates for an under count for the 2020 census?
HF: Well, the under count for the 2020 census is probably going to be like the under counts have been the last three censuses, you know about six tenths of 1% or less. But the problem is, there's a lot of variation across different groups though, Matt, based upon a review of the 2010 census. The number of people who rent their homes under counted by 1.1%. White, non Hispanic residents are over counted by almost 1% while Hispanics are under counted by 1.5% and the black population is under counted by 2.1%.
MP: Alright, so a lot of variation there. What would be the consequences of the 2020 census if we have the same level of under counting as 2010?
HF: Well, if we had the same level of under counting what would happen is Texas and Florida would get one less seat and Ohio and Rhode Island to get one more seat. So this is very significant.
MP: So what is the Census Bureau doing to improve the count for the 2020 census?
HF: Yeah, the census has established a great public outreach program. It's called complete count committees. And these have been formed in every single state, all across Central Florida. We have them in every major county and in every major city, and they're to promote the census and the full count of that census. And they work with local community groups to establish that. And they will also foster the recruitment of the enumerators we talked about to make sure that we have enough people to do the counting.
MP: So is it the responsibility of these local groups to make sure there are enough people to do that counting or is it the federal government's responsibility?
HF: Oh, it's the federal government's responsibility. But it's important that these groups do their job because so much is at stake here, you know, we only get to do this once every 10 years and there's no taking back.
MP: And there's so much on the line, with the formation of these committees, what else can our state and local leaders do?
HF: Well, I think it's very important to understand we face particularly difficult problems here in Central Florida, because we have a very low unemployment rate and we have very high and fast-growing population, especially of Hispanics and African Americans who are historically under counted. You know, I would suggest that our local leaders allocate substantial funds to ensure that we have the right number of enumerators and that we make sure we get a full count. As I said, we only do this once every 10 years. And there is a clear and pressing need to make sure that we invest and get a full count.
MP: Hank Fishkind, thank you so much.
HF: Thank you.