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As Texas' Census count comes up short, some blame effort to add question about U.S. citizenship

Philip Jankowski
Austin American-Statesman

The somewhat deflating news from the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday that Texas picked up two new seats in Congress instead of a widely projected three left some questioning whether politics or the pandemic might have created an undercount.

Texas came up about 190,000 people short of earning a 39th seat in the U.S. House, according to state population growth figures released Monday. While Texas continued to add more people than any other state, the final tally coming in 0.6% lower than projections was enough to keep the Lone Star State from a 41st Electoral College vote.

More:Texas gets 2 more US House seats as population tops 29 million

Texas still gained more congressional seats than any other state in a reapportionment that shifted seats from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West.

Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, pointed at some Republican Party policies for playing a role in Texas coming up short of the projected population tally. The lack of investment in census outreach coupled with the Trump administration's attempt to place a citizenship question on the census might have led to an undercount in Texas, Li said.

Texas came up about 190,000 people short of earning a 39th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to state population growth figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"I think the minute they announced (the citizenship question) at the end of 2018, a lot of the damage was done," Li said. "It was difficult to put the genie back in the bottle after that happened."

Texas lawmakers reject funding for Census outreach

During the 2019 Texas legislative session, GOP lawmakers refused Democratic lawmakers' requests for up to $50 million in earmarks for census outreach. The Legislature left the effort up to cities and counties, until a last-ditch $15 million effort to promote responses in the final month of counting.

More:In Austin, scramble underway in abbreviated census count

"The fact that Texas spent virtually zero dollars on the census compared to New York and California certainly would have some impact," Li said.

That coupled with the pandemic could have contributed to an undercount in Texas. It will remain unclear where undercounting might have occurred until regional data is released at the end of September. But data metrics showed the number of in-person interviews by census workers dropped by more than one-third.

City of Austin demographer Lila Valencia pointed to increases in the number of addresses that were left as "unresolved" in the count as a possible indication that this census count might not be as accurate as 2010's count.

An address census workers mark as unresolved refers to a residence where they failed to get any information about a home's occupants or lack thereof. Quality of data metrics released late Monday showed a 71% increase in unresolved addresses in Texas when compared with the 2010 Census.

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How many Texans responded to the Census?

In Texas, 0.89% of addresses — about 111,000 — remained unresolved. That is more than two times the unresolved addresses in 2010's census, according to the report.

"We don't know if they're vacant or occupied or if anyone lives there, and 0.89% is a small figure, but when it comes to a population the size of Texas, it's pretty significant," Valencia said.

Texas' count also saw a more modest increase to people counted by proxy. That occurs when the residents of a household do not respond to the census and are unable to be contacted when census enumerators go door-to-door. Oftentimes, neighbors or property managers end up providing information on who lives where. It is less reliable than self-response or interviews, Valencia said.˜

Texas' state demographer, Lloyd Potter, stopped short of laying any blame for Texas falling short of picking up a third congressional seat, Potter said. He said continued declines in birth rates and international migration might have led projections for Texas' population to be set too high.

"Those are probably the two factors that might have caused us to be overly optimistic," Potter said. "That said, we added more population than any other state."