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New TNSDC Resources Aid 2020 Census Error Review in Municipalities

Data from the 2020 Census was released one year ago, but the window to correct errors in the decennial count will remain open until June 30, 2023. New tools from the Tennessee State Data Center can help communities identify and resolve Census Bureau processing errors.

Just over ten months remain to review the data for certain types of correctable errors and the opportunity is one that Tennessee communities that haven’t already done so should consider.

Fixing problems in the 2020 Census data that result in net population gains can also be a financial boost for cities and towns. That’s because several Tennessee state-shared revenue formulas reference the latest decennial population counts. When corrections are issued by the Bureau, they are incorporated into the state’s Certified Population Report – the official basis for the distribution.

Thus far, the City of Cleveland and Town of Whiteville are the only communities to file Census challenges, but there are likely additional locations that could benefit from the program.

Figure 1:  2020 Census challenges have been filed in in two Tennessee communities

A discrepancy in Cleveland, Tennessee’s city limits in the 2020 Census led to number of housing units and associated population being reported in the unincorporated portion of Bradley County. The city challenged error under the boundary provisions of the CQR program. If approved, a corrected count of housing units and population will be issued and new results will be published in the 2020 Census errata.

Aerial photo of Hardeman County Correction Facility showing reported location in 2020 Census

1,958 inmates at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tenn., were incorrectly reported outside of the town’s limits in the 2020 Census. The town challenged the Census result and was among first six communities in the country to receive a corrected 2020 Census count from the CQR program.

Conducting a Municipal 2020 Census Review

To expedite a municipal review, the State Data Center has developed a three-step census data review process that is focused on locating only errors which can be submitted to 2020 Census review programs sponsored by the Census Bureau.

Reviewing, identifying and correcting errors in 2020 Census data does not involve a recount of people. Instead, most checks are to ensure that the living quarters reported by the Census Bureau are in the correct jurisdiction.

The State Data Center’s streamlined review process targets the two Census Bureau review programs that are available.

2020 Count Question Resolution (CQR) Operation

CQR allows communities to request that the Census Bureau review a narrow set of processing errors that include:

  • Incorrect corporate boundaries used in calculating the total population and housing unit counts
  • Correct errors where living units (housing units and group quarters) and their inhabitants were reported at an incorrect location – such as outside a corporate limit

Post Census Group Quarters Review (PCGQR)

PCGQR is a new program designed to correct 2020 Census miscounts of residents at group quarter facilities, especially in instances where residents were displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic or where facility restrictions prevented accurate enumeration.

2020 Census Undercounts Will Persist

No census is free of miscounts including omissions, duplications and people counted at the incorrect location. This is true when enumerating a city’s residents or the entire country.

Unfortunately, the state of Tennessee received news on May 18, 2022, that there had been a net -4.7 percent undercount of the state’s household population. This equates to an estimated 322,000 people that may have been excluded from the state’s decennial count.

The news raises the prospect that undercounts may have occurred in communities across the state. The agency will not release any additional information about the characteristics of undercounted people or their location in within Tennessee.

The Census Bureau’s challenge program and group quarter review programs are unlikely to shed much light on 2020 undercount. For the most part, the challenge efforts are limited to shifting the location of those properly counted in 2020 and does not attempt to enumerate people who may have been excluded.

On August 16, the Bureau will publish additional state-level information explaining how well the 2020 Census covered the state’s reported 3 million housing units. This will include information comparison between housing types, such as single and multi-dwelling units, as well owner- and renter-occupied housing.