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Low Census Count Denies AZ New Seat in Congress, Millions in Federal Aid

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Friday, May 7, 2021   

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Political observers and community organizers are both surprised and disappointed Arizona's 2020 population count fell far short of expectations, denying the 48th state a tenth congressional district.

The official Census Bureau count for Arizona was 7.2 million, about 400,000 fewer people than experts estimated. It's been one of the fastest-growing states in the country in the past decade, with a heavy influx of transplants from cold-weather states and Latino immigrants.

Danaysha Smith, youth justice organizer at the Arizona Coalition for Change, said volunteers spent months working to convince people to participate in the Census, and are devastated by the final count.

"Most of our work that we did was to create a sense of trust with the government and the community, especially communities of color, undocumented communities," Smith explained. "But when you're also trying to undo a lot of that fear and mistrust with the community, and that fear is becoming more prevalent, it's really hard to combat that."

Census officials say Arizona's count fell about 80,000 short of qualifying the state for another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Community organizers say it could further dilute political representation for the state's growing Black and Latino populations, and cost Arizonans millions of dollars in federal benefits.

Vianey de Anda, civic engagement communications director for One Arizona's Progress Arizona Institute, said her group was concerned political interference and bureaucratic incompetence could result in a significant undercount.

"Our communities trust us," de Anda asserted. "They know who we are, we've been around and most importantly, I think one of the biggest elements is being able to communicate with them in a language that they understand. So, I think the Census Bureau could have definitely done a lot more."

De Anda added community activists will now focus on making sure the state's remaining congressional districts are redrawn fairly by the state's new Independent Redistricting Commission.

"We still have that process that we can be a part of and make sure that our communities are not divided up," de Anda stressed. "Instead, our community's power is harnessed, so that we elect our politicians and not the other way around."

The next census is in 2030.

Disclosure: Progress Arizona contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Environment, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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