During the 2020 census, American Indian and Alaska Native leaders across the U.S. invested time and resources to make sure their members were tallied during the head count, which determines political power and federal funding.
But the detailed data sets that resulted from the 2020 census are more limited and less accurate than they were in the previous census — and it isn’t because the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited outreach efforts but because of new privacy methods implemented by the U.S. Census Bureau in order to protect the confidentiality of participants, one of which introduces intentional errors, or “noise,” to the data.
Accurate data helps tribal leaders make decisions about where to locate grocery stores or schools and estimate future population growth. Census numbers determine funding for social programs, education, roads and elder care for tribes that have been historically undercounted.
More than 80 percent of tribes in the U.S. won’t receive the full suite of detailed demographic data from the 2020 census at tribal-area levels they had in the 2010 census because of the changes, according to a report by the Center for Indian Country Development, which is part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
The 2020 census put the Native alone population at 3.7 million people; it was 9.6 million for those who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with another race. The Census Bureau provides detailed data for 1,200 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages.
The privacy changes to the detailed census data “will harm the ability of self-governing tribes to meet the needs of their citizens,” the Federal Reserve report said.