Arizona city disputes census data showing it shrank amid population boom
In Somerton, Ariz., local officials said the population had grown enough for the small municipality to build its first public high school and a new elementary school.
But according to the latest census results, which were released this month, Somerton has shrunk by 90 residents over the past decade. Instead of the 20,000 inhabitants expected by the city’s mayor, the official population stands at 14,197.
“So we’re trying to figure out where these numbers are coming from because they don’t make sense,” said City Manager Jerry Cabrera, who said the city added 853 new homes over the past decade.
Since the federal distribution and the number of congressional seats each state gets depends on the results of the census, an accurate count is essential. An Associated Press review found that in many municipalities, the percentage of black and Hispanic populations in the new results was lower than estimates and the Census Bureau‘s annual survey.
The finding suggests some areas were overlooked in the 2020 count, which was complicated by the pandemic and last-minute attempts by the Trump administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the count and shorten the timeline for reporting data. .
For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below:
It’s a Thursday night in Somerton and parents and students crammed into a college gymnasium are roaring for the school’s wrestling team at eardrum-testing decibels.
The young wrestlers are seventh and eighth graders who will be among the first to attend this city’s first public high school, which was approved just weeks ago after years of lobbying by local authorities. The predominantly Hispanic community has grown enough in the past decade to also build a new elementary school.
For the share of the black population, the trend was most visible in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, including Alabama, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi , North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. For the Hispanic population, it was mostly in New Mexico and Arizona.
In Somerton, about 200 miles southwest of Phoenix near the Mexican border, community leaders were in disbelief.
“That’s not true. It’s not real numbers, you know. They don’t know our community. They haven’t done the right thing to count our people, and that’s just ridiculous. It can’t be,” said Emma Torres, executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, an organization that defends agricultural workers. The group was heavily involved in promoting the census.
Most Somerton residents use post office boxes. The majority are Spanish-speaking farm workers and many lack reliable internet access.
Community leaders said they were used to an undercount, but the idea that they lost residents is unfathomable.
Here, where an annual tamale festival to raise money for students draws thousands of visitors, local schools are over capacity as enrollment rose nearly 12% from 2010 to 2019. And after years of having to haul students at least 10 miles north of Yuma, Somerton finally reached the threshold of its own high school.
While there’s nothing new about undercounts and no census is perfect, there is “strong evidence” that undercounts in the 2020 census are worse than in recent years. decades, said Paul Ong, a UCLA public affairs professor whose own analysis of Los Angeles County this month concluded that Hispanics, Asians and other residents were undervalued.
“The general implication is that this will distort the redistricting process, our undercounted neighborhoods will be underrepresented, and undercounted populations will be harmed in the allocation of federal spending,” Ong said.
AP analysis comes with caveats. The Census Bureau said the census numbers should be considered more accurate than the agency’s American Community Survey or older population estimates. In addition, the American Community Survey has margins of error and population estimates are changed to push some people who identified as “another race” in the 2010 count into more traditional racial categories such as whites, blacks and Asians.
Bureau officials said it was too early to speculate that individual communities were undervalued. The extent to which the statistical agency missed some populations or overstated others will not be known until early next year, when it releases the results of a survey used to measure the quality of its work in counting every US resident.
Black and Hispanic communities are historically undercounted, and there was greater concern about an undercount in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left people afraid to interact with strangers, and natural disasters, which made it difficult for enumerators to reach some residents. . There have also been attempts at political interference by the Trump administration, including an unsuccessful attempt to add a citizenship question to the census form.
The PA review revealed figures that suggest some communities have been overlooked.
Outside of Baton Rouge in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, for example, 2020 census figures showed the black population share to be 23.4%, but 2020 population estimates and the 2019 American Community Survey put it at 44%. The area is home to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds 5,500 inmates, and group housing such as prisons, dormitories and nursing homes were among the most difficult places to count people during the census due to restrictions related to COVID-19.
In counties along the Colorado and New Mexico border, the share of Hispanic population in the census was lower than estimates and the survey, ranging from 4 to 7 percentage points.
The Census Bureau said in a statement that tribal, state and local governments can request a count revision if they believe the census counts are inaccurate, but this will not change the counts used for redistricting or seats in the Congress.
“Despite a pandemic, natural disasters and other unforeseen challenges, the 2020 census results so far meet global benchmarks,” the statement said.
Cabrera said the city was pulling data to show the 2020 count was canceled and plans to appeal.
Somerton Mayor Gerardo Anaya worries about the city’s share of state revenue. He said sales tax revenue, school enrollment and building permits for Somerton have increased in recent years. Developers keep building.
As it has done in many Latin American communities, the pandemic has had an outsized effect in Somerton. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos were almost twice as likely to be infected and more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white people.
In Somerton, few people have jobs they can do from home. Anaya said there was a time last summer when the Somerton zip code had the highest infection rate in Arizona.
“This time it was just chaotic here during the summer. We all had family members who were in hospital or dying or infected with COVID. So it was very scary,” Anaya said.
Back at the Cobras’ home of Somerton Middle School, manager Jose Moreno bragged about his city’s tight-knit community, where wrestling is a source of pride. Moreno paced the gymnasium and joined in the cheers as the young boys took on the San Luis Scorpions.
Moreno said finally reaching the threshold of a high school means local educators can continue to work with the children they taught from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“I’m accepting the challenge, really, trying to carry on the traditions that we have here in college, in the city, in the things that we enjoy. And so you have this little feeling here, and you know that we really want keep it going,” Moreno said.
As for the game, the Cobras gave the Scorpions a boost, beating them 90-6.