The Latinx Community and the U.S. Census

Learn why Latinx people are often undercounted

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Katleho Seisa / Getty Images

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts each person who lives in the United States. This also includes the five U.S territories: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The year 2020 marked not only the 24th census but the first time households were invited to fill out the census online. The U.S. Census Bureau struggles to get an accurate count each year and this is largely due to demographics. For example, many people within the Latinx community are often hesitant to respond or choose to opt out.

This article explains what the U.S. Census is and why it’s important. It also discusses how people complete the U.S. Census, why it asks if you are of Latin/Hispanic origin, and why Latinx people are often undercounted in the U.S. Census.

What Is the U.S. Census?

The U.S. government is required to count everyone living in the country regardless of race, ethnicity, or citizenship status, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution.

The Census Act of 1790 created the first census, and the government has carried it out every 10 years since to determine a population count.

Why the U.S. Census Is Important

U.S. Census data is important for a variety of reasons including:

  • Ensures that those living in the U.S. have the opportunity to be involved in community initiatives (e.g., legislation)
  • Helps bolster real estate programs
  • Facilitates job creation as businesses can more effectively decide where to build their stores
  • Aids in public safety initiatives
  • Helps determine how to allocate government funds and other forms of support to states

The main goal of the U.S. Census is to make sure that all people are represented and have access to resources.

How Do You Complete the U.S. Census?

In previous years, the U.S. Census was carried out by census takers going house-to-house to collect the necessary data, which comes from seven questions.

These questions include your name, gender, age, date of birth, Hispanic origin, race, and relationship to the person completing the questionnaire.

It’s key to note that the U.S. Census does not include a question about citizenship status. New to 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census was available to complete online, in addition to being able to complete via phone.

Why the U.S. Census Asks About Hispanic Origin

The question of whether an individual is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin serves to create statistics about this ethnic group. This data is used by local, state, tribal, and federal programs as factors in basic research heavily tied to policies, specifically for civil rights, as well as in planning and funding government programs that provide critical services for specific groups.

Finally, data collected are also intended to help government programming and policies ensure they’re fairly and equitably serving the needs of Hispanic communities, in addition to complying with anti-discrimination laws and policies.

Another reason there is a question about Hispanic origin expressed separately from that of race is because the U.S. Census recognizes that people who classify themselves within this category may be of any race. 

Why Latinx People Are Undercounted in the U.S. Census

According to Salud America, there are several reasons why Latinx individuals are historically undercounted. These include existing language barriers, poverty levels, low educational attainment, and privacy concerns related to negative political rhetoric and federal detention. Understandably, this can cause mental anguish and stress among immigrant communities.

However, the U.S. Census is actually required by law to uphold the confidentiality of your information. Therefore, individual records and data aren’t shared with anyone, including law enforcement and federal agencies like the IRS, FBI, or CIA.

A Word From Verywell

While there are understandable reasons as to why members of the Latinx community may be hesitant to complete the U.S. Census, it is vital to ensure this demographic is served as equitably as others in this country. By properly educating community members about how the data is used, we can move toward more accurate counts of members of this population in the years to come.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Census Bureau. Island areas.

  2. Salud America! 14 Things Latinos should know about the 2020 Census.

  3. Population Reference Bureau. U.S. 2020 Census FAQ.

  4. United States Census Bureau. Why we ask questions about… Hispanic or Latino origin.

By Emilia Benton
Emilia Benton is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been published by Women's Health, SHAPE, Prevention, and more.