1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Florida could be hurt by Census undercount, especially of black and Hispanic households, new report finds

With high black and Hispanic populations, 300,000 could go uncounted.
Hilda Deer, Public Service Coordinator for the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, assists Elysee Marcellus filling out his family Census for 2000. Marcellus' mom, Therese Marcellus, is watching on the side. HCSO Deputy Darrell Hartzog stands by in the background. The event took place Saturday in the parking lot of the new Walmart on Fletcher Avenue in north Tampa. [Tribune (2000)]
Published Jun. 4
Updated Jun. 4

Census takers may fail to count more of Florida’s residents than most other states, according to new research. Undercounts could mean communities lose out on government or grant money for years.

A paper by the Urban Institute predicts that Florida will suffer greater undercounts because it has particularly high Hispanic and black populations. People in those racial groups have historically been missed by Census takers.

Further, a controversial citizenship question, which is expected to dissuade Hispanic residents from responding, would particularly affect the state.

These anticipated factors threaten to undermine Florida’s reported population, making it less accurate than in most of the country.

Within the state, areas with many black and Hispanic households would lose out more than heavily-white neighborhoods, warned Diana Elliott, a senior research associate at the institute and an author of the report.

"Certain communities will miss out on their fair share of funding,” Elliott said.

Elliott’s team at the institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan think tank, mapped out three scenarios for the 2020 count. In its “low-risk” case, they assumed that households would respond as much as they did in 2010. In higher risk cases, they factored in the Census Bureau’s expectation of lower response levels, as well as the depressed response rate caused by the citizenship question.

Even in the best case, the researchers concluded, the Census may fail to count about 2.4 percent of black Americans and 2 percent of Hispanic Americans. By contrast, white non-Hispanic Americans are expected to be slightly overcounted.

Florida ranks 11th among states in total black share of its population (18 percent) and 6th in total Hispanic share of its population (27 percent).

Researchers project about 97,000 Floridians will go uncounted, at least. The state’s undercount rate (0.4 percent) would be the eighth-highest in the nation.

And in a “high-risk” scenario, nearly 1.5 percent of Floridians would not be counted, the seventh-highest rate among states. That would total about 320,000 people, more than how many live in Orlando. In that case, Florida would jump a notch to the the nation’s seventh-highest uncounted rate.

Census takers are more likely to miss people of color because of a more transient, hard-to-track lifestyle that accompanies poverty, researchers said. Sending forms to mailing addresses and following up in person are most effective when people own their homes and don’t move frequently.

“The more you are in poverty, the more transitional you are,” said Rob Santos, vice president and chief methodologist for the institute.

Renters and people with less stable living situations are more likely to be missed, he said. As of 2018, the homeownership rate for white, non-Hispanic Americans was above 70 percent, compared to less than 50 percent for black and Hispanic people.

Meanwhile, white people are much more likely to own multiple homes. Responding to Census forms at more than one address can lead to an overcount. Similarly, separated parents of children in joint-custody arrangements might double-count their kids.

Santos also said people 50 and older are more likely to be white and more likely to fill out Census forms when they get them.

Just because a form isn’t returned doesn’t mean a household isn’t counted. When residents don’t respond, the Census looks for other records to see who may live at a given address.

Those records, such as voter registration or Medicare documents, are more comprehensive for white people than for people of color.

Then there’s the citizenship question. The Census has not asked every household to give every resident’s citizenship status since 1950. The bureau itself believes doing so in an immigrant-unfriendly political climate will dissuade immigrants and Hispanic people, regardless of their immigration status, from responding.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to allow the question by the end of the month.

If many people fail to respond, some of them inevitably won’t be counted at all. Based on the Census Bureau’s analysis, a federal judge in a prior case concluded that asking the question would lead to skewed data, less precise than the separate survey methods the bureau already uses to determine citizenship.

Even if the question is blocked, it may have already done damage.

“The negative policy environment surrounding immigrants and the citizenship question is expected to suppress immigrant participation, regardless of whether the courts allow the citizenship question to be added,” the researchers wrote.

Despite its expected impact on her state, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has signed a letter to the Supreme Court supporting the citizenship question.

Of the 17 states to sign, only Texas has more Hispanic residents per population than Florida.


  1. State Rep. Chris Sprowls, 35, addresses the Florida House of Representatives, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after the Republican was elected to lead the 120-member chamber. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan) BOBBY CAINA CALVAN  |  AP
    The Pinellas Republican did not shy away from the wedge issues of the day, wading into 2020 presidential politics, abortion and climate change.
  2. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  3. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
    Nearly a year after the storm, 18,000 claims are still open.
  4. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    Gov. Ron DeSantis also had set a priority of getting more youngsters ready for kindergarten.
  5. Energy-efficient LED light bulbs. (Times | 2008) St. Petersburg Times
    Trump’s administration recently scrapped a rule that would have phased out incandescent light bulbs.
  6. President Donald Trump speaks at the 2019 House Republican Conference Member Retreat Dinner in Baltimore on Sept. 12. JOSE LUIS MAGANA  |  AP
    The country is moving in that direction, though.
  7. She’s the fifth candidate to announce her campaign for the GOP primary.
  8. Rep. Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor.  [SCOTT KEELER  |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    At 2 p.m. today, the Republicans of the Florida House are scheduled to elect the Palm Harbor state representative to serve as speaker for the 2021 - 2022 term.
  9. Students and community activists marched in Tampa last year after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The attack killed 17 people and gave rise to Florida’s school guardian law, which this year was changed to allow classroom teachers to be armed. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure into law. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
    "This is the dumb, backwards stuff that we do here,” one Florida lawmaker said.
  10. Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES
    Tom Lee chairs the Florida Senate’s Infrastructure and Security Committee, which has been tasked by the Senate president with coming up with a response to the most recent spate of mass shootings.