PSU study: citizenship question in 2020 Census puts many Oregonians at risk of being undercounted 
Author: John Kirkland, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: January 15, 2019

As many as one in nine Oregonians lives with someone who is not a citizen of the United States, according to Portland State University researchers. The findings demonstrate the potential large numbers of people who could be at greater risk of not being counted in the 2020 Census.
Jason Jurjevich, associate director of the PSU Population Research Center, discovered the findings by analyzing data from the American Community Survey (ACS).  The ACS --which includes a citizenship question -- is an ongoing national survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which differs from the census in that it’s a sample of roughly 1.5 percent of the population.  The census, held every 10 years, is required to count everyone.  

“Securing a fair and accurate count is not only critical for determining political representation, but also ensures fair distribution of federal resources to state, county and local municipalities,” Jurjevich said.

Jurjevich conducted the research in part because of the controversy surrounding the decision by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the upcoming 2020 Census.  The administration’s controversial efforts hit a hurdle this week as federal judge blocked the Department of Commerce from adding the citizenship question on the census form. The decision will likely be appealed, and seems certain to reach the Supreme Court before printing of census forms begins this summer, according to the New York Times.

The last time the decennial census asked all U.S. households about their citizenship status was 1950.

Jurjevich said the concern about the citizenship question is that it will reduce participation in the census, thus increasing the undercount of non-citizens, and U.S. citizens as well, particularly persons of color, children and individuals of lower socioeconomic status.

Last year, former U.S. Census director John Thompson said “There are great risks that including that question, particularly in the atmosphere that we’re in today, will result in an undercount, not just of non-citizen populations but other populations that are concerned with what could happen to them.” 

“The late addition of the citizenship question is particularly troubling because these groups already are hard-to-count, so the question makes it more difficult to ensure a fair and accurate count,” Jurjevich said.

One of the ways to measure the success of the census is to estimate the number of individuals excluded or undercounted in the census, he explained.  Populations such as children, rural residents, renters, individuals of color, immigrants, homeless, etc., tend to be undercounted for a variety of reasons, including fear of government, a desire for privacy, language issues, complex household relationships and others. For example, despite being one of the most accurate censuses in recent American history, the 2010 Census undercounted approximately 10.1 percent of African-American men ages 30 to 49, Jurjevich said.  

His study showed:

  • Nearly half a million Oregonians—roughly 1-in-9—live with at least one non-citizen, meaning they are at greater risk of being undercounted in the census.
  • Children are more likely to live with at least one non-citizen, meaning that children are more likely to be undercounted.  The data show that almost 1-in-5 Oregon children live with a non-citizen.
  • The citizenship question will make it more difficult to count Oregonians of color. Roughly 78 percent of Oregonians living with a non-citizen are persons of color, despite making up 24 percent of the state’s population.
  • The citizenship question would also make it more difficult to count Oregonians with limited means. Roughly 17 percent of Oregon renters and 19 percent of Oregonians living below the poverty level live with non-citizens, and are at elevated risk.

Two other criticisms of the census citizenship question, Jurjevich said, are that it’s untested, and the justification for adding the question remains unclear. 

The census bureau tests new questions before it actually includes them in the decennial census. The citizenship question was not included in the census bureau’s content tests.  Because the next census will be conducted in early 2020—roughly one year away—there’s not enough time to do that, he said.  In two court cases challenging the legality of the citizenship question – one of which was the subject of Tuesday’s ruling -- plaintiffs questioned the motivations of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for including the citizenship question. Critics of Ross’ decision have accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes.

The best ways to get a fair and accurate count, Jurjevich said, are to educate and motivate respondents about the census; develop community partnerships to get out the count; implement best practices to encourage participation among hard-to-count populations; hire local, trusted census enumerators; and make information and resources available to respondents for filling out their census forms on the internet, a new option in 2020.

For more information on the census, visit