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How the U.S. Census Impacts Hunger in America

October 27, 2020

This year has been filled with life-changing events including the 2020 census. The 2020 Census counts the population in the United States and the five U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Every 10 years, each home receives a short questionnaire either online, by phone, or by mail. The questionnaire asks for general information like home address, members of the household, and those members’ birth dates, sex, race, ethnicity, etc. 

The Census provides important information to distribute federal funds and grants to support states, counties, and communities based on population totals and demographics. When you respond to the census, you help determine how the government shares the $675 billion per year to fund necessities like schools, hospitals, public works, and other crucial programs to help communities thrive.  

Collecting accurate Census data is critical to ending hunger and poverty in the United States.

The census results determine how much of the federal funding will be spent specifically on federal food programs. Without accurate information, communities with higher risks of experiencing food insecurity will not receive the needed funding to support these programs. For example, if young children are undercounted, programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) who support low-income families would not receive the appropriate amount of funding, thus jeopardizing children’s access to nutritious food during the early years of development.  

Historically, the census misses vulnerable communities, including people of color, immigrants, young children, low-income people, and rural households. According to the Food Research & Action Center, African Americans, Indigenous people, Latinx people, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and those living in rural areas face disproportionately higher rates of food insecurity than the national average.

The Decennial Statistical Studies Division of the Department of Commerce estimated a net undercount of about 4 percent for African Americans in the 1990 Census. Though the count improved roughly 2 percent in the 2000 Census,  it has not improved since. 

The numbers get even worse when counting children. Black & Hispanic children are undercounted at a 2-3x rate compared to their non-Black, non-Hispanic counterparts. 


Along with federal funding, the results determine the number of seats each state will claim in the U.S. House of Representatives. Inaccurate information would impact the needed representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, thus affecting the state's redistricting process, leaving low-income families trapped in food deserts and redlined communities

Due to COVID-19 Pandemic, the year has had a low census self-response rate. In September, a bipartisan group of senators noticed the alarming numbers and requested for the Census Bureau to accept information through at least October 31st, and possibly extend the legal reporting deadlines for census results by four months. After working its way through the courts, the Supreme Court set the deadline to October 15th. The results of the Census will be shared with the President by December 31, 2020, and then made public in 2021. 

The power behind one quick, simple questionnaire is incredible. Opportunities to be part of the narrative and provoke positive change cannot be wasted, especially during these uncertain times. If history is any indication, minority groups will be underrepresented and will continue to need support to help end the hunger crisis in their area. 

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