RELEASE: New Report Explains How the Census Bureau Is Miscounting People Experiencing Homelessness

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress, the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality’s Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative, and National LGBTQ Task Force finds that people experiencing homelessness may be undercounted and miscounted during the 2020 census at higher rates than in previous years.

People experiencing homelessness have been historically undercounted in the decennial census, but the logistical challenges inherent in conducting a census during a pandemic and operational decisions made by the U.S. Census Bureau have likely resulted in a worse miscount than in the past. The report explains that this is because the census counting operation was not adequately staffed; received less support from community partner organizations, largely due to the pandemic; and relied heavily on asking people to fill out the census online, rather than on paper, which was less feasible for many experiencing homelessness.

At the same time, the pandemic and resulting economic recession make data on homelessness especially important. These crises are expected to make homelessness more common, deepen the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, and increase the need for public programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Head Start, and programs that support youth transitioning out of foster care, survivors of domestic violence, and people reentering their communities after incarceration.

“The U.S. Census Bureau has a constitutional mandate to count everyone. But my co-authors and I have grave concerns that people experiencing homelessness were greatly undercounted this year,” said Jaboa Lake, senior policy analyst for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP and co-author of the report. “This undercount could not have come at a worse time. The economic recession is increasing poverty and homelessness, and public programs whose funding are determined, in part, by the census are more vital than ever. In the remaining weeks of the count, it’s vital that the bureau fulfill its mandate and count every person.”

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