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Acting Mayor Kim Janey to challenge US Census count of Boston residents

Acting Mayor Kim JaneyMatthew J Lee/Globe staff

Acting Mayor Kim Janey will challenge the US Census Bureau’s 2020 tally of Boston residents because federal officials undercounted the city’s immigrants, incarcerated people, and college students, amid the coronavirus pandemic that drove some students to leave the city temporarily, Janey said in a letter released Friday.

“Every Boston resident deserves an accurate Census count. This is required by our Constitution and is critical for Boston to receive its fair share of federal funding to support our most vulnerable populations and elected representation at all levels,” Janey said in a statement Friday. “An accurate census also ensures future planning accurately reflects the needs of our neighborhoods.”


In a letter dated Oct. 14, Janey wrote that the Census count of 675,647 Bostonians missed about 5,000 college students, according to data collected by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

The Census began on April 1, 2020, shortly after colleges and universities evacuated their campuses in response to the pandemic. The schools were instructed to report their residential populations from their administrative records for the spring semester, but some students who should have been counted weren’t, Janey wrote.

Students living off campus also appear to have been undercounted because many left the city temporarily when classes moved online, she wrote.

Nationally, only about half of colleges cooperated when the Census Bureau asked for records on off-campus students because many had privacy concerns or did not have the requested information.

Immigrants are likely to have been undercounted because of language issues and because of mistrust of the government, especially after former president Donald J. Trump’s administration sought unsuccessfully to add a question about immigration status to the survey, Janey wrote.

People incarcerated in the city’s two jails were undercounted by about 500, according to data provided by the jails, she wrote.

The Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.


The bureau has previously acknowledged issues with its count of people housed in group settings, releasing documents in July that showed the bureau had no information for almost a fifth of the country’s occupied dorms, prisons, and nursing homes at the end of its data gathering last December.

Bureau officials were forced to make last-minute calls to facilities or use a last-resort statistical method to estimate numbers. In July, officials said they were confident that they had filled in the gaps using a reliable method.

The time spent addressing the irregularities forced the bureau to delay the release of numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among states in a process known as apportionment. It also pushed back by five months the release of redistricting data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

Other communities around the country with large student populations, including Bloomington, Ind.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and State College, Penn., are also exploring their options for contesting the population counts.

In the Borough of State College, home of Penn State University, officials believe the Census missed 4,000 to 5,800 residents.

The 2020 Census put Bloomington, home of Indiana University’s flagship campus, at 79,168 residents, a decline from about 80,405 in 2010. City officials expected a 2020 count of 85,000 to 90,000 residents.

Two analyses released earlier this month suggested the 2020 Census also may have undercounted Black Americans at a significantly higher rate than usual, raising concerns about whether communities of color could lose out on fair representation and funding over the next 10 years.


“This might be our greatest undercount since 1960 or 1950,” said Marc Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League, which sued the bureau last year to stop the count from ending early.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.