Census estimates an overcount in Utah

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Published Sunday, May 22, 2022
by Merrilee Gasser | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) - The population of Utah was likely overcounted during the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau said this week.

Utah was one of eight states estimated to have an overcount, according to the latest data from the post-enumeration survey the bureau released on Thursday. It estimated Utah's population was overcounted by 2.59 percent.

The census estimated Utah's population to be over 3.2 million. A comparison to 2010 shows the bureau likely overcounted back then too, but only by 0.48 percent. However, the report said it was important not to draw a definitive conclusion based on the comparison between errors in 2020 and 2010 since methods to calculate net coverage errors have improved over the past decade.

To estimate true population size, the 2020 Post-Enumeration survey spent over two years independently interviewing people in approximately 10,000 blocks across the country to see where they lived on April 1, 2020, which was the reference day for the census, and matching those results with the census results.

The bureau said a total of eight states were overcounted, including Utah. The others were Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Six states were likely undercounted, the bureau said. Those states were Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas.

The consequences of miscounting states' populations mean the possible misappropriation of billions of federal dollars. At least 140 federal grant and direct assistance programs, the largest of which is Medicaid, partly use data from the U.S. Census Bureau to distribute billions of dollars annually, according to the bureau. An overcount could lead to a state receiving too much federal funding. On the flip side, an undercounted state could end up not getting enough.

The census is also used to determine congressional appointments and district sizes. After the 2020 census, six states gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and seven states lost seats. Of those states, only one estimated to be miscounted lost a seat. Illinois was undercounted by -1.97 and lost one House seat after 2020, according to data from the bureau.

Overall, 14 states were likely miscounted in 2020. The bureau said the South region experienced an undercount of -1.85 percent, and the Northeast region had an estimated overcount of 1.71 percent.

The report said there's no "true count" of the population, adding it's difficult to achieve an accurate count for all 50 states.

"These results give us valuable insight as we plan operations and allocate resources for the 2030 Census," said Census Bureau Director Robert L. Santos.

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