The 2020 Census drastically undercounted Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans with major ramifications for the crafting and implementation of environmental policy, as well as the allocation of funding both ahead of and in response to extreme weather fueled by climate change. Black and Hispanic Americans across all income levels are more likely to live in formerly redlined communities with dangerously polluted air.

The data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, generated by a randomized resurvey of selected areas, showed especially alarming increased rates of undercounting for Hispanics (4.99% in 2020, more than triple the 1.54% in 2010) and those who identify as “some other race” (4.34%, up from 1.63%). American Indian and Alaska Natives living on reservations had a net undercount of 5.6%, also higher than in 2010. The Census also undercounted renters, who are especially vulnerable to climate impacts and housing injustice.

The official totals, which overcount white and Asian Americans, will result in those groups being over-represented at all levels of government while underrepresented groups will be deprived of their fair share of resources for everything from schools and health centers to playgrounds and childcare centers. Hurricanes and wildfires hindered data collection, and the previous administration actively undermined an accurate count of Hispanic Americans by illegally attempting to add a citizenship question to the survey.

“I said from the beginning when the first numbers were released that I smelled smoke,” Arturo Vargas, chief executive of the NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group, told the Washington Post. “And today we learned that the 2020 Census was a five-alarm fire.” (Washington Post $, The Guardian, New York Times $, Al Jazeera, NPR, AP, Mother Jones, Reuters; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, Wildfires, Flooding)