Census 2020 Gets Its First Challenges

By: - January 18, 2022 12:00 am

A college student stands in front of his parents’ home in Georgia, where he may have been mistakenly counted during the pandemic for census 2020 instead of at his apartment in Florida. Pandemic confusion over census counts is leading some cities to challenge results. John Bazemore/The Associated Press

Three small Georgia municipalities are the first to file formal challenges to their 2020 census counts, while some bigger cities are pressuring the U.S. Census Bureau to correct tallies that city officials say came in too low amid the pandemic chaos surrounding the count.

The congressional House Oversight Committee asked the Census Bureau for more information on what could be done to correct apparently undercounted cities such as Detroit, calling for a briefing on the subject by Jan. 27.

In response to complaints about miscounts in college dorms and other institutions, the Census Bureau proposed a review of institutional counts. Jan. 18 was the last day for cities to comment about it.

Detroit’s population was counted at 639,111, down from 713,777 in 2010, a drop of more than 11%. A University of Michigan study in December found some housing units were missed, potentially costing the city millions of dollars in funding tied to population.

The city of Erie, Pennsylvania, last week announced plans to file a challenge by March. Erie lost almost 7,000 people since 2010, according to the census count, dropping it below 100,000 and out of the state’s top five cities. City officials said many residents did not open their doors to census takers.

In Georgia, White County, the town of Chester and the city of Glennville are the first three entities in any state to file challenges under the Count Question Resolution program. Challenges will be accepted until June 30, 2023, though officials say only very technical errors can be corrected by the program—for instance, a prison or other large institution placed incorrectly in another area.

John Sell, White County’s community and economic development director, said the census missed more than 2,700 housing units, many of them in recreational vehicle parks where people live full time. The census counted about 28,000 people in the county for 2020, well short of a state projection of almost 31,000 for that year.

“It didn’t look right to us,” Sell said. “Other areas around us had more growth, and we were expecting more growth. We keep very careful track of our addresses and a lot of them just aren’t there [in the census count of households].”  

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.