Census undercounted Memphis by 16,000 residents, mayor says

FILE - The Memphis, Tenn., skyline is dominated by the Memphis Pyramid, an arena that sits on the Mississippi River, shown in this February 1999 image. The city of Memphis has become one of the largest cities in the U.S. to challenge its head count from the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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Associated Press

The mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, says the 2020 census undercounted his city by almost 16,000 residents, leading him to join other big cities in challenging the results of the once-a-decade head count in the U.S.

Mayor Jim Strickland says the census missed 15,895 residents, and that Memphis actually grew for the first time in 50 years between 2010 and 2020. The 2020 census, however, said Memphis had 633,104 residents in 2020, a drop of 13,785 residents from 2010.

The count failed to include an area that had been annexed in 2013, and it missed thousands of homes, mostly in newly constructed, multifamily buildings, resulting in an undercount of 6,322 housing units, Strickland said in an Aug. 19 letter to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The Census count was wrong. The gains we have seen in investments in Memphis, especially in the core city, over the last few years tell a different story,” Strickland said in a weekly bulletin to his constituents.

The 2020 census missed 4.8% of Tennessee’s population, the second highest undercount of any U.S. state, according to a state-by-state evaluation the Census Bureau did of how good a count it conducted. Along with Arkansas, Florida and Texas, Tennessee did not direct as many resources as other states toward encouraging residents to fill out census forms.

Memphis joins Austin, Texas, and Detroit among the largest U.S. cities appealing the population counts used in the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding each year.

As of last week, around four dozen cities, towns, villages and tribal areas have challenged their figures from the 2020 census, which faced unprecedented challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, hurricanes and wildfires, and political interference from then-President Donald Trump’s administration.

The 2020 census undercounted the overall U.S. population by only 0.24%. But several minority groups were undercounted at greater rates than in the previous decade. Historically, racial and ethnic minorities, renters and young children are at greatest risk of being undercounted.

States and municipalities have until the middle of next year to appeal their census figures, but challenges are rarely successful, and they won’t change the number of congressional seats each state gets, or the numbers used for redrawing political districts.