Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a count of every citizen in the United States as required by the U.S. Constitution. The data collected is used to allocate resources to all Americans and is a vital part of our democracy.
The Census is used to allocate seats and draw district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures, and local boards to target more than $800 billion annually in federal assistance to states, tribes and families. Each decade the count also guides community decision-making affecting schools, housing, health care services and business investment. These functions depend on a fair and accurate Census count.
Native Americans in New Mexico could lose political representation if we are undercounted. We currently have six Native American state House districts and three state Senate where the Native American population is over 50%. If Native Americans are undercounted, we could lose these districts at the state and local levels.
Undercounting means under funded programs
A full count of Native people during the Census means a better account of how funding can be allocated to various communities both in urban and reservation communities. Here are a few examples of how an undercount would affect various programs that benefit Native Americans:
- Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies – Title I provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or percentages of low-income children. About 90% of Native students attend Title I public schools, according to Education Week.
- Head Start – The program provides grants to local public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies to provide child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families, with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund. About 10% of Native children and pregnant women participated in Head Start or Early Head Start during the 2015-16 school year, according to the Administration for Children and Families’ Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center.
- Native American Employment and Training – This program provides Native people with employment training and skills, as well as support for daycare and transportation services to enable Native peoples to thrive in the workplace, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund. The program also provides funding for mentoring, community service, leadership development, and other activities that help young people achieve academic and employment success.
Healthcare and Nutrition
- Indian Health Service (IHS) – IHS, a federal program that fulfills the trust and treaty obligation to Native people, provides access to healthcare to 2.2 million Natives nationwide and uses Census data for planning and implementation of programs.
- Medicaid – Medicaid is a federal-state insurance program that provides health coverage to low-income families and individuals, children, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund. In 2016, 43% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were enrolled in Medicaid or some other public insurance program, according to a National Congress of American Indians Report. Medicaid also provides critical supplemental revenue for the chronically under-funded IHS.
- Urban Indian Health Programs (UIHP) – These programs provide primary care, social services, drug and alcohol counseling, nutritional programs and dental in cities. Approximately 25% of Native people live in urban areas located in counties served by these programs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- SNAP – Formerly known as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP aids low-income families. About 26% of Native households nationally and 32% on reservations received SNAP benefits in 2015, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund.
- The Indian Housing Block Grant – The funding allows tribes to use future grants as leverage for obtaining loans. The block grant program, which is based almost entirely on Census data, served, helped build, or rehabilitated 4,687 units in 2014.
- Indian Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) – The Indian CDBG assists low-to-moderate income tribal communities in improving housing, community resources, and economic development on reservations.
- Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Program – Section 8 vouchers are the nation’s leading source of housing assistance for low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children, helping approximately 2 million households to secure affordable rental housing in the private market.
Native households are at risk of being undercounted
As of 2016, there were approximately 5.6 million Native people (alone or in combination) living in the United States, which is about 2% of the total population. By 2060, it is projected that there will be 10.2 million Native people in the U.S.
In New Mexico, based on state projections, there could be a $780 million loss if New Mexico is undercounted by just 1%, according to iCountnm.gov. Native Americans make up about 11% of the state population.
Why is it so hard to count the Native community?
American Indians and Alaska Natives have been undercounted for decades. Roughly one quarter or about 26% of Native people currently live in hard-to-count Census tracts, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality. New Mexico has been named hardest to count state in the U.S. because of its large age 0-5 young population and large rural population, which includes reservations.
There are several common factors leading to the undercount of Native communities:
- Historical mistrust – Native Americans generally have a mistrust of the federal government stemming from colonization and federal policies that sought to eliminate Indigenous language and culture. Those who have encountered Native people also may have misunderstandings in communication or no awareness or understanding of our cultures.
- Lack of housing or permanent housing – Close to half of American Indians and Alaska Natives are renters (48%). Also, those who live in transitory housing increase the likelihood that the Census Bureau won’t have the correct addresses for Native people. In addition, many Native people live or move in with others or live with family.
- Geography – Some Native communities are on rural reservations or in areas that are hard to reach with unpaved or unmarked roads. Navajo Nation and Alaska Native Villages are proving to be some of the harder areas to reach.
- Age – Often children are missed in the count with parents thinking that they don’t count like adults or too young to be included on the official form. Some children are missed because they are living in two households. About 32% of Native people are under the age of 18. The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for the entire nation.
Participation means having a voice in NM
Based on the latest Census estimates, approximately 78% of our state’s current population live in hard-to-count communities, according to the State of New Mexico.
Dollars of federal revenue that could be lost if we have a 4.9% undercount over a 10 year period of time.
New Mexico’s response rate was the second lowest in the nation. But we can change that. Not only does being counted means more accurate funding for health, education, housing, roads and social service programs, but a voice in decision-making. It is our right as Americans and Native people to be counted accurately.
Our state is in the top five states with the largest Native populations:
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
Native people in New Mexico have a right to be counted.