Earlier census deadline sparks concern about undercounting Native Americans

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (By Lisa Kaczke, Sioux Falls Argus Leader) – Americans now have fewer weeks to complete their census, causing some in South Dakota to worry that an undercount of the state’s Native American population could affect federal funding and legislative districts for the next decade.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Aug. 3 that it was moving the deadline for collecting the 2020 census from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. The Bureau had originally announced in the spring that it was suspending its operations and delaying its deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a terrible blow to Indian Country, taking 30 days away,” said Rosebud tribal member OJ Semans, executive director of the Rapid City-based voting rights group Four Directions. “I’m dumbfounded that the administration would do this during a pandemic. It makes no sense at all.”

State demographer Weiwei Zhang said she’s concerned that the new deadline will compress the timeline when more 30% of South Dakotans still need to respond to the census.

“I really hope the Census Bureau can still maintain quality and still have a complete and accurate count,” she said. “But I also understand the challenges because the timeline, if it’s really delayed and postponed further, will definitely impact activities at the federal level and in the states.”

It’s hard to say whether the earlier deadline will cause an undercount in the state, Zhang said. She estimates that South Dakota’s overall population was undercounted by 1.41%, or 13,411 people, in the 2010 census, which equals the loss of $15 million per year in federal funding for the state. The census is also a basis for annual population estimates for the following years, and an undercount runs the risk of affecting the subsequent counts, she said.

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