Vt non-Hispanic white population, older people could be overcounted in census

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BENNINGTON — Vermont is at risk of overcounting its white, non-Hispanic population and older residents in the upcoming census, according to a Washington DC research group.

White, non-Hispanics in the state could be overcounted by 1,600 to 5,300, whereas people age 50 and older could be overcounted by 3,700 to 5,100. The nonprofit organization Urban Institute released the data Tuesday from its study, "2020 Census: Who's at Risk of Being Miscounted?"

The institute cited Vermont as one of the states — including Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and West Virginia — which has "the greatest potential" for overcounting its white, non-Hispanic residents. These are states with large populations of white, non-Hispanics.

Nationwide, the study shows, the population segment could be overcounted by 67,000 to 1.5 million.

This is apparently connected to the double-counting of certain people: children who are reported by both parents who share custody, as well as wealthy folks who have more than one home where census forms are sent.

"The white population tends to be more affluent than the rest of the U.S. population, and a portion of them have homes in more than one place," said Rob Santos, vice president and chief methodologist director at the Urban Institute. "People want to be sure that they're counted and so they will fill out the form at each residence."

Older people also are more likely to be overcounted because of their response habits.

"Folks over 50 tend to respond very rigorously to a census, and sometimes they respond more than once" if they receive more than one census form, Santos told journalists in an online seminar last week.

Vermont children age 4 and younger, meanwhile, are at risk of being undercounted by 1,100 to 1,500.

Young children have historically been undercounted across the country, with the 2010 Census missing about 5 percent of this demographic, Urban Institute Senior Research Associate Diana Elliott said at the seminar.

She attributes the historical undercounting to factors such as caretakers' forgetting about the young ones, being unsure whether they should be counted within the household, as well as their living in rental homes that could be transitory and difficult to find.

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The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, considered the impact of the issue on whether a question about people's U.S. citizenship should be included in next year's census. The decision is now up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could issue its judgment any day.

"We believe that there will be an impact regardless of whether the Supreme Court strikes it down or not," Santos told the Banner. "In many ways, the damage has already been done with months and months and months of media attention on why this is occurring and the fear that it's instilled in immigrant populations and refugee populations who are not citizens."

An undercount in the 2020 Census is likely inevitable, according to the Urban Institute report, "the big question is by how much."

The nationwide population count, which happens in years that end in "zero," guides the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and state funding for various federal programs.

At stake each year is $675 billion toward these programs, including Medicaid, federal direct student loans, SNAP food stamps, highway planning and construction, as well as Section 8 housing.

Businesses and community organizations also use census data in deciding where to set up their grocery stores, gas stations, schools and fire stations, Santos said.

During the 2010 Census, around 630,000 people were counted in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country. It has one U.S. House representative. On the other end of the spectrum is California, which logged 37.3 million people in the last census and has 53 House seats.

The 2020 Census officially starts Jan. 21 in the remote parts of Alaska. Most U.S. households will receive their forms by mid-March, though they have to use April 1, 2020, as the reference date for their responses.

The U.S. Census Bureau is currently recruiting workers via 2020census.gov/jobs to help with next year's count. The agency expects to begin hiring in Vermont this month, said bureau spokeswoman Patreinnah Acosta-Pelle.

Unlike other states, Vermont has not yet established a Complete Count Committee - a volunteer group that raises awareness of the upcoming census and motivates community members to respond.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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