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Did Florida Undercount in the 2020 Census, Potentially Missing Out on Federal Dollars?

The 2020 Census is finally over, capping off a historic effort to accurately count every person in the United States during a pandemic. A few interesting stories emerge from the latest enumeration of the nation, such as the growing population shift to the South and New York losing a congressional House seat by only 89 people. Although Florida was one of the so-called “winners” in the current census because it secured an additional seat in Congress, the result was not as spectacular as expected.

Overall, the U.S. population grew to 331,449,281 in 2020, representing a sluggish 7.4 percent growth over the last decade (second slowest in Census history behind only the 1930-1940 period during the Great Depression). The South emerged as the clear winner in the 2020 Census as its population increase of 11.7 million was the largest of all regions and accounted for 51.6 percent of total population growth over the past decade.[1]

Florida’s numbers mirrored the southern trend with a population increase to 21,538,187 in 2020, reflecting a 2.7 million increase, or 14.6 percent growth, over the last decade.[2] As a result of the growth, Florida was one of six states to gain at least one additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite this gain, some experts and officials have expressed their consternation with the outcome. Why?

The biggest letdown was what Florida did not obtain: a second congressional seat as had been expected. Before the release of the official Census results, Florida seemed poised to count more people and gain a second seat in Congress.[3] According to the Florida Demographic Estimating Conference, Florida’s resident population was estimated to be 21,595,068 people on April 1, 2020, which turned out to be 58,000 more than the eventual 2020 Census number for Florida.[4] Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau produces another set of population estimates—called the Vintage 2020 Population Estimates—which predicted Florida’s resident population to be 21,688,239 people on April 1, 2020. This estimate also turned out to be above the number in the 2020 Census, but this time by more than 150,000 people.[5] In both cases, the 2020 Census seemed to count fewer people in Florida than what prior estimates suggested.

To examine the reasons why Florida may have counted fewer people than expected, it is worth considering demographics. Like Florida, Arizona and Texas were two other states with 2020 Census results below 2020 Vintage estimates. Common to these three states is a sizeable Hispanic population, and some are arguing that the three states undercounted their respective Hispanic populations due to a lack of outreach efforts and from the chilling effect of a prior push to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census (which the Supreme Court ultimately struck down).[6]

Very young children are also an important factor to consider. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the last count (2010 Census) missed around one million children nationwide, making young children the most undercounted group in the last Census. For Florida specifically, around 6.2 percent of young children were not counted in the 2010 Census, equating to about 71,300 children and leading to $675 million in foregone federal dollars over the past decade that would have gone to schools and child health care.[7]

It will take time for official U.S. Census data to reveal whether an undercount occurred in Florida, and any potential undercount would cause Florida to miss out on federal dollars over the next decade. There are more than 316 federal programs that will use the final 2020 Census numbers to divvy up $1.5 trillion to states, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and households.[1] These programs affect every part of the state, including education, health care, economic development, environment, and transportation.

Based on the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida receives about $2,350 per Florida resident[2] from the federal government, on average.[3] Using a conservative estimate, if Florida were to have undercounted its population by 58,000 people in the 2020 Census (such as the difference between the 2020 Census and Demographic Estimating Conference), the state would lose out on $136.3 million in federal dollars every year that would go to other states instead. Of course, this calculation should be viewed with a degree of caution since the U.S. Census has not officially released data on state-by-state undercounts yet. If the past is any indication, however, Florida could miss out on hundreds of millions, or even billions, of federal funds for a variety of programs.

Whether or not Florida undercounted its population remains unknown absent any concrete data right now, but regardless of the eventual numbers, Florida’s 2020 census results will have important political and economic implications in the years to come. Yes, Florida may have gained an additional seat in Congress, but it does not look slated to receive its fair share of federal dollars as was the case following the 2010 Census. As Florida TaxWatch has argued for in the past and will continue to advocate for going forward, increased Census outreach and participation is an important priority beyond just apportionment and redistricting. It is quintessentially important for receiving federal dollars to support all Florida citizens, from children to elderly residents.

 

Note: As more data on the 2020 Census come out in future months, Florida TaxWatch will be closely watching and commenting on what the results mean for the state of Florida’s fiscal picture.

 


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, “A Preliminary Analysis of U.S. and State-Level Results from the 2020 Census,” Apr. 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Election Data Services, “New Population Estimates Point to Significant Issues in Recent Supreme Court Case,” Dec. 22, 2020.

[4] Florida Demographic Estimating Conference, Tables: Conference Packet, Mar. 3, 2021.

[5] U.S. Census Bureau, “A Preliminary Analysis of U.S. and State-Level Results from the 2020 Census,” Apr. 2021.

[6] See Politico, “Census data leaves Latinos wondering: Were we counted?” Apr. 27, 2021; New York Times, “Did the 2020 Census Undercount the Hispanic Population?” Apr. 28, 2021.

[7] Florida TaxWatch, “An Accurate Count in the 2020 Census is Vital for Florida,” Jan. 2020. 


[8] George Washington Institute of Public Policy, “Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds.” Nov. 2019.

[9] The per capita figure comes from Fiscal Year 2016 numbers. See George Washington Institute of Public Policy research mentioned above for more details.

[310 National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida and the Census, Accessed May 2021.

 

 

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