Census undercount threatens federal food and health programs on reservations

CARLY GRAF Kaiser Health News

The 2020 census missed nearly 1 of every 17 Native Americans who live on reservations, an undercount that could very well lead to insufficient federal funding for essential health, nutrition, and social programs in remote communities with high poverty rates and scarce access to services.

The census counted 9.7 million people who identified as a Native American or an Alaska Native in 2020 — alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity — compared with 5.2 million in 2010. But the Indigenous population on the nation’s approximately 325 reservations was undercounted by nearly 6%, according to a demographic analysis of the census’s accuracy. Indigenous people on reservations have a history of being undercounted — nearly 5% were missed in 2010, according to the analysis.

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At least 1 in 5 Native Americans live on reservations, according to previous census data. More detailed Native American population data from the 2020 census will be released over the next year.

The census numbers help determine how much money is allocated to various programs on reservations such as health care, social services, education, and infrastructure. For example,

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