The Importance of the 2020 Census for Native Americans

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a nationwide survey to count every resident across the country to ensure equal representation and to allocate seats and guide district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives. Besides providing the U.S. government with an accurate representation of the country’s population and demographics, policymakers at the tribal, federal, and state level also depend on this data to develop policy and programs aligned with the realities of Native communities.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, many Native Americans fall within certain population groups that are considered “hard-to-count,” making them vulnerable to under-representation. Some of the characteristics that make a citizen hard-to-count include poverty level, educational attainment, housing insecurity, age and remoteness.

As a result of inaccurate counting, the needs of Native communities may be misrepresented and the allocation of crucial federal funding for needs related to health, housing, education and more may also be impacted. In fact:

  • In 1990, the net undercount of Native Americans on reservations was an estimated 12.2%.
  • In 2010, Native Americans and Alaska Natives on reservations were undercounted by about 4.9%.
  • In some states, a large proportion of Native Americans live in hard-to-count tracts, including:
    • 78.6% in New Mexico
    • 68.1% in Arizona
    • 65.6% in Alaska
    • 52.4% in South Dakota
    • 49.9% in Montana

Take Action

This year, individuals and families will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census beginning in mid-March. Anyone can help the Census Bureau avoid under-representation of Native Americans in the 2020 Census by becoming an advocate and informing their members of Congress about the importance of providing adequate funds to the Census Bureau to ensure a more accurate count in the 2020 Census.

Those interested in becoming more involved can also join Complete Count Committees, which are established among tribes to educate state, tribal and local leaders about the challenges associated with the Census for Native communities.

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