Indian Country and the 2020 Census

Jun 10, 2019

The 2020 Census is just around the corner and ensuring an accurate count of Montanans, including American Indians, will be a big issue. An accurate count in 2020 matters because it ensures proper representation in state and federal government, protects tribal sovereignty, directs sufficient federal funding to meet communities’ needs, and protects vulnerable populations and marginalized people. American Indians are a significant part of Montana’s population and our state’s future American Indians are one of the fastest growing populations in the nation. According to the 2010 Census, the number of Native Americans increased nearly three times as fast as the total U.S. population, growing by 27 percent, from 4.1 million in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2010. Montana has the fifth highest representation of American Indians, as a percent of population (after Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and South Dakota). Despite population growth, Americans Indians continue to experience the largest census undercount of any population group. The Census Bureau estimates that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations or in Native villages were undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in 2010—more than double the undercount rate of the next closest population group. American Indians living in Montana – on reservations and in urban areas – face a number of barriers to be accurately counted. Congress and federal agencies use census results to allocate critical federal funding The government distributes more than $800 billion per year for 300 different federal programs based on the Census. In Fiscal Year 2016, Montana received $2.99 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 Census. Every Montana resident that is not counted equates to lost federal funding of $1,989 per person per year. An accurate Census count ensures our communities receive equal access to federal funding. How much funding does Montana receive that impacts Indian Country and is tied to the Census? Education & Employment Healthcare & Nutrition Housing Historical challenges of undercounting during the Census Roughly 103,000 (or 1 in 10) Montanans live in neighborhoods that may be considered hard-to-count for the 2020 decennial census. These are areas where response rates were low in 2010 and tend to be more rural and remote census tracts. About half of American Indians in Montana, a total of 40,779 individuals, live in hard-to-count communities. Low response-rates in Indian County are a result of several factors and socioeconomic barriers, including geographic isolation, non-traditional mailing addresses, high mobility, low homeownership, poverty rates, educational attainment, and age. To read more about the barriers that make the American Indian population harder to locate and contribute to low mailing response rates, undercounting, and low participation in the Census, read: Ensuring Natives Count: Overcoming the 2020 Census Count. What can be done in 2020 to ensure a complete count Efforts to ensure an accurate count have already begun in Montana, with the creation of the Montana Complete Count Committee (CCC). We applaud the efforts of the CCC and others to focus on ensuring a complete count of American Indians. No single solution can remove all of the barriers to obtaining an accurate count in Indian Country. Instead, a multifaceted approach must be used for the 2020 Census. Here are several recommendations to ensure that American Indians living within Montana’s state borders have appropriate access to the 2020 Census, are counted fully, and are represented for the significant population they are in our state. Below are additional resources on the 2020 Census information, specific to Montana and Indian Country:  
Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.