State has more people, diversity than Census shows

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, May 28, 2022

Mississippi’s population is larger and most likely more diverse than what was reported last year in the official 2020 U.S. Census.

Reports that the state lost population during the past decade were incorrect based on follow-up research done by the U.S. Census Bureau.

It is probable, though, based on the Census Bureau’s follow-up work, that most — if not all — of the population growth the state experienced since the 2010 Census was among Mississippi’s racial minority groups.

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The bureau, using various types of statistical sampling of households, vital records and other data, released a U.S. Census report earlier this month surmising the population of Mississippi and five other states was undercounted in the official 2020 U.S. Census. There were eight other states with significant overcounts.

Mississippi’s population was undercounted by 4.11%, according to the bureau. Only Arkansas at 5.04% and Tennessee at 4.78% had higher undercounts. The state with the largest overcount was Hawaii at 6.79%.

In the 2020 Census, Mississippi was identified as one of just three states that lost population during the 10 years between official census counts. The state lost about 6,000 people and had a population of 2,961,279, according to the original 2020 Census. So in reality, based on the follow-up reports, the state gained about 100,000 people and has a population of more than 3 million.

A key question is what does the undercount mean for Mississippi? First of all, it was not large enough to result in the state losing one of its four U.S. House seats, which are divvied out to the states based on population. But if the minority population is indeed growing at a faster pace than originally cited in the official 2020 Census, that would mean that in redistricting efforts the minority population would not be fairly represented on the federal, state or local levels.

In addition, the amount of federal funds directed to the state often is based on the official census.

“Hundreds of federal programs use decennial census data in their funding formulas, so if Mississippi had an undercount, it would miss out on its rightful share of funding over the coming decade,” according to the Urban Institute.

The Urban Institute estimated the undercount in Mississippi was 2.59% among African Americans and 2.18% among Hispanics.

According to the Census Bureau, the follow-up, called a post-enumeration survey, is not broken down on the state level to determine undercounts or overcounts within state demographic groups because the sample sizes are not large enough.

But another recent follow-up conducted by the Census Bureau revealed that many minorities were undercounted on the national level. The undercount among African Americans was 3.3%, and 4.99% among Hispanics. The white population was overcounted by 1.64%.

Based on the original 2020 Census, Mississippi’s solely white population declined by 95,791 people from 2010 to make up 56.01% of the total state population. Based on the 2020 Census, the African American population declined 13,940 people to 36.62% of the total population. During the same time period, the percentage of Mississippians identifying as other than solely white or African American was 3.85% in 2010 and was 7.36% of the total population in the original 2020 Census.

It is reasonable to assume the national numbers in terms of the undercount of minorities and the overcount of those identifying as solely white also apply to Mississippi. And if that assumption is correct, that means Mississippi’s minority population grew during the past 10 years at a faster rate than originally thought.

Another report released by the Census Bureau as it was working on the 2020 Census indicated that about 27% of Mississippians live in hard-to-count neighborhoods. A map from the Census Bureau reveals most of those hard-to-count areas as being along the Mississippi River, where there are Black majority populations and in other areas with substantial minority populations. That research bolsters the argument of a significant undercount in Mississippi’s Black communities.

“We have always advocated for an accurate count and doubted the accuracy … of the numbers,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann wrote on social media of Mississippi’s undercount.

He added, “Our office is working now to gain clarity on the impact of this undercount and any steps which can be taken to mitigate it.”

In reality, there is not much that can be done.

In the 1990s during the Bill Clinton administration, census officials argued that by using the statistical sampling of households and other more advanced technology they could deliver a more accurate population count than what is ascertained by the traditional manual count. Republicans at the time opposed using the technology. The Supreme Court supported the Republican argument saying that the Constitution required an actual manual count be conducted to develop the official census.

The result of that ruling, among others, is the current undercount for Mississippi.


This analysis was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.