AUSTIN, Texas – Texas State Demographer Lloyd B. Potter says he expects there to be a census undercount in South Texas.

Speaking at a virtual Senate redistricting committee hearing on Tuesday, Potter said he has concerns about how accurate the count was during Census 2020.

“Historically there has been an undercount in places in South Texas. In the 2010 census that was an area that certainly had indications of an undercount. There were some contested count resolutions, concerns, there, and in other parts of the state as well,” Potter said,

“But, yes, the lower Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, there were some pretty strong indications there was an undercount in those areas.”

Potter was responding to questions from state Sen. Jose Menendez of San Antonio. The Senate panel is hosting virtual hearings for different parts of the state. Tuesday’s hearing focused on South Texas.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

“There is nothing new in terms of us having concerns about the quality of the census. What is new is we had some real strange things happen in terms of the logistics of the census. And that increases my concerns about the accuracy,” Potter said.

He was referring to the challenges the Census Bureau faced in attempting to count everybody during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know the census staff are going through it in a very rigorous fashion to try to identify places where there has been an undercount and to address those issues but I don’t know how well they will do it until the data are released,” Potter said.

Potter serves as director of the Texas Demographic Center housed at The University of Texas at San Antonio. The Texas Demographic Center program produces population estimates and projections for the State of Texas, serves as a data archive for Texas, and offers technical expertise in demographic and socioeconomic research.

The Census Bureau is currently analyzing the information it collected during the 2020 count. It could start releasing the information it collected in Texas in late April. The Texas Legislature is waiting for the official census count so it can redraw congressional and legislative districts.

Potter said his office will render an opinion on what the Census Bureau comes up with.

“If we see an area where there is an undercount we will be able to articulate why we think there is an undercount. So, again, I am reasonably optimistic that the data we are going to get is going to be acceptable to do redistricting with, but I don’t know that at this point,” Potter told Sen. Menendez.

Many families along the border are categorized as mixed status, with some classified as undocumented and others as U.S. citizens or legal residents. In such homes, the hesitancy to answer the door to census enumerators for fear of catching COVID-19 was exacerbated by concerns that information about undocumented family members could handed over to ICE. Another factor at play at the time was then-President Trump’s request that only U.S. citizens be counted. Eventually, the Census Bureau ignored this request.

“I think they have done the very best they can, under the circumstances,” Potter said of the Census Bureau. “We had some real strange things happen.”

Potter holds a Ph.D. in Demography and Sociology from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Public Health Degree from Emory University, a Master of Science in Education from the University of Houston at Clear Lake and a Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University. 

He is a professor in the Department of Demography at The University of Texas at San Antonio where he also serves as the director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research (IDSER). He has extensive experience working as an applied demographer in several settings. His current research focuses on public policy and health related demographic topics and training applied demographers.

According to the Census Bureau, a lower percentage than normal – 62 percent – self-reported in Texas during the 2020 census. The remainder were counted via the best guesses of neighbors, landlords or other knowledgeable individuals. Potter said this method is significantly less accurate than self-response surveys. 

In a previous Senate redistricting committee hearing, Potter had said only 29 of Texas’ 254 counties beat their self-response rate from 2010. “I expect we’re going to see some inaccuracies, more so than what we saw in 2010,” said Potter.

Latino population growth

In his testimony to the Senate panel, Potter said Texas could gain three new congressional seats because it has been growing fast.

“We have seen shifts in the racial and ethnic compositions of the population, with the Latino population growing pretty quickly and almost being in parity with the non-Hispanic white population. We are forecasting that by the end of this year or sometime in 2022 there will be more Hispanics in Texas than non-Hispanic whites,” Potter said.

“When you look at population change over the decade you can see that the Latino population has really driven much of our population growth. More than half of our population change is happening because the Latino population is growing from net in migration and from natural increase, more births than deaths.”

The African-American population and the Asian populations also been growing, Potter explained.

“So, when we look at it overall, the Latino, African-American, Asian and others have contributed over 83 percent of the population change to the state so far. That is something to give consideration to when you look at the redrawing of districts,” Potter told senators attending the virtual hearing.

In his questions to Potter, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa noted that the demographer had praised communities in the Rio Grande Valley for working hard to ensure an accurate census count.

Hinojosa asked how Potter knew about the complete count efforts of Valley cities and counties. Potter said through observations and all the events hosted in the region.

“There are many challenges, in terms of trying to count every person,” Hinojosa said. “Many that live in colonias will not respond to any kind of effort to count their families. A lot of people from Mexico live on this side of the border and they go back and forth and we always seem to have an undercount.”

Hinojosa said that, historically, the Valley has always had to challenge the Census Bureau’s numbers in order to reduce the undercount.

“After almost every census, every ten years, as long as I can remember, there has been a lawsuit filed by the county of Hidalgo where, as a result, there has been an addition to the undercount in Hidalgo County.”

Hinojosa asked if Potter had any information on that. “How we can challenge if we feel there is an undercount,” he asked Potter.

“I am familiar with that (the lawsuits),” Potter responded. “I have some recollection that we consulted with, I think it might have been the county judge or some officials in the Rio Grande Valley around data sources that they could use.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Texas State Demographer Lloyd B. Potter. (Photo credit: Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

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