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Census Undercounts: Low-Income Households

As part of our commitment to a full, fair, accurate and safe 2020 Census, we’re sharing information about groups who are commonly missed by the census…and the important messages you can share to encourage participation.

More than 29 million people living in or near poverty are at risk of being undercounted by the 2020 Census. Low-income households are historically undercounted for a variety of reasons, jeopardizing federal funding for much-needed programs and affecting political boundaries & representation. Here are a few challenges for counting low-income households, and messages we hope to spread in response.

Challenges: Resources and Trust

The Census has many built-in processes to stop responses from “falling through the cracks,” but they rely on certain factors. Households with low incomes tend to rent, are less likely to file taxes, and are less likely to have internet access — three risk factors for undercounting. In addition, the Census Bureau has worked to streamline the response process as much as possible, but time is a precious resource, and people may assume the census costs money or takes a long time to complete.

In addition, people who receive government benefits may fear losing eligibility, or being prosecuted, if their census responses somehow contradict other data. The only purpose of the census is to produce anonymous statistics, but that can be a tough claim to believe from a stranger standing on your doorstep. Encouragement and facts provided by trusted acquaintances can increase trust in the process.

Messages to Spread

  • The census takes about 10 minutes to complete and is completely free.
  • Responding accurately to the census is important: it means funding and representation for your community.
  • Census responses are protected by federal law and can’t be shared with anyone, even other government agencies, immigration enforcement, or benefits/eligibility departments.