Laying the Groundwork for the 2030 Census Starts Now

By Esteban Camarena

The decennial census is the Census Bureau’s largest statistical endeavor and the government’s largest peacetime operation. Its goal is to count everyone living in the country every 10 years in order to determine the reapportionment of congressional seats, redistricting at all levels of government, and the allocation of federal resources. Simply put, democracy depends on the census. Yet historically, people of color, low-income communities, older people, and children — among other at-risk communities — are often undercounted and tend to miss out on the benefits of a full and accurate count.

Due to the pandemic, in-person enumeration operations in 2020 came to a halt at the peak of the Get Out The Count (GOTC) phase of the census, forcing community-based organizations and governments to quickly pivot their outreach strategies to virtual and other platforms. When factoring in the digital divide, an unprecedented public health crisis, and subsequent economic hardship, distrust of government, and political interference during the 2020 Census, the decennial census results do not paint an accurate picture of our country’s population.

According to the Pew Research Center, data for subgroups and states are flawed by undercounts, overcounts, and incorrect counts, largely along demographic lines. In fact, the 2020 Census had a record undercount of the Hispanic population, with a net undercount of 4.99 percent. The 2020 Census also undercounted Black people and Native Americans while overcounting White and certain AANHPI communities. These results have real-world implications that will reverberate for generations to come. In Texas, which was among six states that had undercounts, more than half a million people were missed — resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in federal funding and costing the state an additional U.S. House seat. Other states, such as Minnesota, were able to keep its eight House seats by a razor thin margin (just 89 people), indicating the extent to which a fair and accurate census can impact representation in Congress.

For Latinos and other historically undercounted communities, results from the 2020 Census translate to the loss of federal funding for programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, and Head Start. It also means a loss of democratic representation due to congressional reapportionment and redistricting that diminishes the power of people of color. In Alabama, the maps redrawn based on the 2020 Census by the state legislature were ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court to violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA) since it diluted the power of Black voters. This decision was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court after Alabama attempted to defy the ruling. A similar ruling in Georgia stated that the current political maps drawn by lawmakers following the 2020 Census also violate the VRA. Likewise, a state judge in Florida ruled that the maps redrawn by the Florida state legislature violated the state’s constitution and could not be used for any congressional elections. As these cases indicate, it is crucial that maps drawn based on accurate census data reflect each states’ diverse population and help put an end to racial discrimination. They also demonstrate the important ways in which our work to ensure a fair and accurate count, protect the freedom to vote, and defend our democracy all intersect in meaningful and consequential ways for the future of our nation.

No census is perfect, but we can work collaboratively to count as many people as possible and ensure that communities receive adequate federal funding and are fairly represented in Congress — and that we are telling the story of our communities by ensuring everyone is showing up in the data. The work for a fair and accurate 2030 Census starts now, and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, along with our national and state partners, are committed to building the infrastructure for a fair and accurate census because we know this is a crucial component of a vibrant democracy.

Based on the lessons learned from the 2020 Census, we are laying the foundation for a robust GOTC campaign by creating educational resources, facilitating webinars, and — more importantly — building relationships with stakeholders at the state and national level in order to connect the importance of the decennial census and the American Community Survey (ACS) to democracy and civil rights issues.

  • Our Roadmap to 2030 outlines the steps that community-based organizations can take every year leading up to the decennial census, and we’ve translated this roadmap into Spanish (Mapa hacia el censo del 2030) to build capacity within the Latino community.
  • To uplift the importance of the ACS, The Education Fund and Census Counts designated this past August as ACS Awareness Month, which included hosting webinars and developing educational materials to underscore the implications of the ACS for our democracy.
  • This past summer, we participated in the Census Information Center Conference, hosted by the Census Bureau, to build and strengthen our relationships with stakeholders across the country.
  • We recognize the importance of partnerships with state and national partners, which is why we’re continuing to expand our States Count Action Network (S-CAN), a collaborative space to hold strategy discussions and share resources in preparation for the 2030 Census and the ACS. 

Census data are not only about numbers — they are, more importantly, about people and their stories. As we continue to lay the groundwork for a successful 2030 Census that captures the stories of all communities, we invite you to join S-CAN and visit our Roadmap to 2030 website to learn about updates and future events, such as the Census Seminar Series. By staying informed and being an advocate for the census and data equity, you can help ensure a fair and accurate count and protect our democracy and civil rights.

Esteban Camarena is the field manager for the census & data equity program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.