Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks to President Donald Trump during the first meeting of the President’s National Council for the American Worker at the White House in Washington, Sept. 17, 2018. A federal judge blocked the Commerce Department on Jan. 15 from adding a question on American citizenship to the 2020 census, handing a legal victory to critics who accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Report: Up to 177,000 Georgians could be missed in the 2020 census

The possible inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census, the national debate over immigration and other factors could cause an undercount of Georgia’s population by as many as 177,000 people, or nearly 2%, according to a report released Tuesday.

Georgia ranks fifth among states for the highest possible undercount in percentage terms, with blacks, Hispanics and children under 5 years of age at the biggest risk, according to the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank whose report was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

There is a lot at stake. Mandated by the Constitution, the decennial count helps determine congressional representation as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding for cities, counties and states. Communities use the data to plan new schools and hospitals. Businesses use it decide where to build new factories, offices and stores.

The Trump administration has argued introducing the citizenship question would help it better track demographics and enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“The American people deserve to know who is in this Country,” President Donald Trump tweeted in April.

Critics say including the citizenship question could deter many unauthorized immigrants from participating, though the U.S. Census Bureau says it wouldn’t share someone’s legal status with federal immigration authorities.

Georgia ranks high among states for possible undercounts partly because it is home to large numbers of historically harder to count people, including black men and children under five, said Robert Santos, chief methodologist at the Urban Institute. Santos said Georgia also is home to many Hispanics, who now total 10% of the state’s population.

Diminishing funding for the U.S. Census Bureau and plans for allowing people to respond to the survey online for the first time could also cause miscounts, the institute’s report says. That’s in part because poorer Americans are less likely to have Internet access.

Some 136,600 blacks, 39,700 Hispanics and 46,400 children under five could be missed in Georgia under a worst-case scenario, the Urban Institute estimated.

At an estimated undercount of 1.65%, Georgia would trail only California, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada. In contrast, according to the report, some states could see their populations overcounted by nearly 1%, including Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Vermont.

In a low-risk scenario, in which the 2020 population is counted as well as in the 2010 census, Georgia’s undercount would be only 0.64%, according to the Urban Institute.

The U.S. Census Bureau, which has estimated that adding the citizenship question could reduce population counts by about 6.5 million people, said in a statement that it is “working with communities across the country to communicate that responding to the census is safe, easy, and important.”

“Our operations and our communications campaign are oriented to reach hard-to-count populations and encourage them to respond to the census,” the bureau said, adding that its employees swear a lifetime oath to protect responses. “By law, your responses are confidential and cannot be used against you in any way.”

A Hill-HarrisX online survey of 1,002 registered voters in April showed that a majority of voters – six in 10 — support including the citizenship question in the 2020 census, even if it results in fewer responses. Some 21% opposed it, while the rest said they were unsure.

The Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, a nonprofit, said Americans should be concerned.

“The census is a key building block of our government and our society, at the national, state and local level,” said Diana Elliott, a senior research associate at the institute. “Miscounts of this magnitude will have real consequences for the next decade, including how we fund programs for children and invest in our infrastructure.”

Last week, opponents seeking to block the citizenship question filed court papers saying the late GOP operative, Thomas Hofeller, “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and non-white Hispanics.’”

Three federal judges have already ruled against including adding the citizenship question to the survey. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the matter this summer in time for the bureau to print the document.

Since April, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have each highlighted initiatives aimed at preventing undercounts. Called “ATL Counts,” the city’s year-long effort is encouraging participation in the 2020 census. Dozens of elected officials, community leaders and others are serving on the city’s Complete Count Committee.

MORE: City identifies, corrects nearly 80,000 addresses before 2020 census

RELATED: A new fight against Census undercount emerges in Georgia

Appearing with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and other African-American leaders last month, Holder said black men are among the hardest populations to count in the tally, and warned that an inaccurate headcount will alter how taxpayer dollars are spent, where businesses locate and how political maps are drawn.

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