By Lee Egerstrom
Minnesota held on to an eighth congressional seat in the House of Representatives and to access for untold billions of dollars in federal funds for the next 10 years thanks to aggressive work by demographers and Census takers in the 2020 Census.
That was revealed on May 19 when the U.S. Census Bureau released a study on the accuracy of the 2020 Census. In turn, that was nine days after the Center for Indian Country Development, housed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, released a May 10 paper stressing the importance of data gathering in Indian Country.
In that latter article, Center researchers said accurate data is urgently needed for officials and entrepreneurs to administer or apply for programs for economic development, for governments – including tribal governments – to make appropriate policies, and for all to understand challenges and opportunities for development and for strengthening family lives and economies.
The article, entitled “An urgent priority: Accurate and timely Indian Country data,” was written by Matthew Gregg, senior economist for Community Development and Engagement; Casey Lozar, a Minneapolis Fed vice president and director of Center for Indian Country Development; and Ryan Nunn, assistant vice president for Community Development and Engagement.
“Tribes need reliable information to exercise economic self-determination,” the authors noted in a sub-headline to the article.
Regarding business activity, the Fed researchers said without accurate information about business ownership it is impossible to determine if Native-owned and tribal enterprises can access sufficient financing or participate fully in government programs.
There are no comprehensive data on tribally owned enterprises, they said. While government-owned enterprises are of marginal importance in non-Native economies, they are central to Indian County economies by providing significant tribal revenues and employment.
Tribal government data are essential for analyzing public policy, they said. This must include information about revenues, expenditures, debt and assets. Such data are available for other local and state governments that rely on taxation for revenue, but not for tribal governments that rely heavily on business holdings.
The Fed researchers said inadequate sample sizes, mismatched geographies and unique data characteristics about Indian Country create challenges for people who need and use data.
Regarding the sample size, they noted that the 2020 Census found only 3.7 million people among the total 330 million population were identified as American Indian or Alaska Native while 9.7 million people actually use that identity or in combination with other ethnic identities. What’s more, other data-collection efforts are insufficient to assess conditions in Indian Country.
“In some cases, survey data permit identification of some racial and ethnic groups but not American Indian and Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders,” they wrote.
Geographic challenges come when analyzing which parts of data correspond to tribal areas. This matters, they said, because conditions can vary dramatically between areas just inside and outside tribal-area borders.
The third challenge of unique characteristics plays out in different ways, including with tribal ownership and operations of enterprises and resources. A key here is the importance of tribal affiliation and enrollment, two designations that are often not including in various demographic and economic surveys.
The Minneapolis Fed researchers said there are “glaring gaps” in assembling data on Native American families and individuals in Indian Country. This information is essential for understanding economic and social challenges within different communities in the United States. Both the 2010 and recent 2020 Census undercounted American Indian and Alaska Native populations by “substantial margins,” the researcher said.
The 2020 Census
The U.S. Census Bureau supports that conclusion. The bureau quantified shortcomings in the 2020 Census in its Post-Enumeration Survey released on May 10. In it, and in another report released earlier in March, the bureau concluded it had undercounted 5.6 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives living on reservations, Hispanics by 5 percent and the Black population by 3.3 percent.
People identifying as “some other race” were undercounted by 4.3 percent.
Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic white population had a net “overcount” of 1.6 percent and Asians had an overcount of 2.6 percent.
Mike Schneider, writing for the Associated Press, explained the importance of these counts and their impacts on states with both political representation and access to public funding. In a May 19 article published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Schneider wrote:
“States that did a better job of getting residents counted scored greater Electoral College and congressional representation or did not lose expected seats in the House of Representatives. They also are now better positioned for the annual distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding in the coming decade.”
Dollar amounts this might represent for tribal, state, county and municipal governments in Minnesota over the next decade aren’t known. But MaryJo Webster, writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, showed clearly that the way states and Census workers conducted the Census will pack political importance here and for several different states.
Minnesota kept its eighth congressional seat in the House of Representatives. Had Census counters found just 26 fewer people living in Minnesota, New York would have been given that final House seat in Congress.
This is where overcounts and undercounts in census numbers become tricky. There is a window of time each winter and spring during the census taking every 10 years. When babies were born and when people died in those years, and how thorough Census takers were in counting people led to some states to have what the Census Bureau calls overcounts and undercounts.
Hawaii, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York, Utah, Massachusetts and Ohio had overcounts ranging from 6.8 percent down to 1.5 percent. Texas, Illinois, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas had undercounts ranging from a negative 1.9 percent on up to minus 5 percent.
Minnesota’s data in the Census showed the state with 5.7 million population, a gain of 402,000 people from the Census 10 years earlier. While that included a statistical overcount as mentioned above, the review study still believes Minnesota may have missed about 1.8 percent of its actual population.
Nationwide, it is estimated that 6 percent of America’s actual population was missed in the Census. That cost Texas and Florida extra seats in Congress.
Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower told the Star Tribune that Minnesota had 75 percent of state residents filling out census forms without needing follow-up visits by census workers. That was the highest participation rate in the nation. It helped prevent Census from missing people among historically undercounted groups of racial and ethnic minorities, renters and young children.
The report “An urgent priority: Accurate and timely Indian Country data can be found at: https://www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2022/an-urgent-priority-accurate-and-timely-indian-country-data.