Risk of Undercounting Native Tribal Populations, Akee Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a Spokesman-Review article discussing the risks of undercounting Northwest tribal community populations. The Census Bureau announced that it will cut door-to-door counting short by a month, leaving census workers scrambling to meet the new deadline of Sept. 30. Indigenous people living on reservations were undercounted more than any other group in the 2010 census, the article noted. Tribal leaders fear that the shortened timeline could lead to an even more drastic undercount this year, resulting in less federal funding and other resources for tribes. Akee explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled self-response rates. “There are so many competing messages about other things, and it’s hard for this to take hold in communities where people are worried about their economic stability and their actual health,” he said. “Filling out a census form is further down in people’s priorities.”

Akee on Reaching Hard-to-Count Populations in Census

Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy, was featured in a Durango Herald article discussing the issue of undercounting Native American people in the U.S. census. Native Americans living on reservations made up the biggest undercount of any ethnic group in the 2010 census. “Before the pandemic, it seemed the census was taking the issue of reaching out to underrepresented communities seriously,” said Akee, who served on the National Advisory Council on Race, Ethnic and Other Populations at the U.S. Census Bureau from 2013 to 2019. “One of the big things we were always focused on was how to reach the hard-to-count populations.” However, decreases in funding and the coronavirus pandemic have created new challenges. “There are high costs of getting to places and getting to people in these particular communities, which is the reason why undercounts are prevalent,” Akee said. “Remote communities simply need more time and resources for an accurate count.”

Akee Alarmed by Undercounting of Navajo Population

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with KJZZ News about the danger of undercounting the Navajo Nation population in the 2020 census. The coronavirus pandemic has hindered the self-reporting phase of the census; in April, fewer than 1% of Navajo had reported to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, that number has risen to about 6.5% — still a fraction of the number that responded last time. Akee explained that it’s important for the census to get the numbers right. “Undercounting is horrible. It’s problematic because it affects everything from allocations of funding to congressional representation,” he said. Akee noted that funding for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was also based on population size. Undercounting of minority populations can drastically affect the allocation of federal aid and resources. Census workers are responsible for filling in missing data in order to account for lack of self-reporting.

Akee on Bringing New Perspectives to the Field of Economics

An American Economic Association profile of Associate Professor Randall Akee traces his path to becoming a leading researcher of underrepresented groups and an advocate for bringing new perspectives to the field of economics. Akee’s interest in economics was piqued by a class at his all-Native-Hawaiian high school in the sugarcane plantation town where he grew up. He went on to earn economics degrees from Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard, and now focuses his research on Native and Indigenous populations as part of the public policy and American Indian studies faculty at UCLA. Akee recently helped launch the Association for Economic Research of Indigenous Peoples to advance the study of underrepresented groups within the field of economics. “One of the things I’m interested in is opening the door for more underrepresented minorities in the economics profession,” he said, noting that the economics of race or ethnicity is rarely accepted as its own valid field of study. 


Akee on Need for Federal Funding to Support Tribes

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured on Indian Country Today discussing the need for federal funding to support Native American economies. Akee co-authored a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin along with a report about the need for CARES Act funding to support tribes during the pandemic. While Congress has allocated $8 billion in relief aid, about half of it was tied up in litigation because of the use of the word “tribe.” Akee also noted that “having to spend the money by the end of the actual year 2020 and document all of those expenses in a way that is only tied to COVID-19 seems like a bit of an extra burden for tribal governments that are already strained.”

Akee on Underrepresentation of Ethnic Minorities

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to ABC News about the risk of underrepresentation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the 2020 census. Government attempts to count smaller populations of ethnic minorities, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, in the United States have historically been inaccurate because of unwillingness or inability to participate in the census. Profound distrust of the government and language barriers have also contributed to inaccurate census results. Experts worry that the added challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate inaccuracies in the 2020 census, which could result in small ethnic minorities being denied public funds and resources. “I’ve seen most clearly in the last two to three months the vital importance of as accurate as possible population counts, especially for small populations like NHPI,” Akee said. “Because without that, it may potentially throw off our public health figures.”

Akee Highlights Disproportionate Impact of COVID on Indigenous Populations

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee wrote an article for EconoFact about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on indigenous populations and other disadvantaged communities. He explained that historical inequities in public funding have made indigenous peoples and African American and Latinx households more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing. New research indicates that “COVID-19 cases are more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing.” He also noted that “COVID-19 cases were less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only,” suggesting that “access to relevant public health information in indigenous languages may play a key role in the spread of COVID-19 in some tribal communities.” Akee recommended developing better-targeted, context-specific policies for indigenous communities, including effective communication of public health warnings and provision of water supplies.

Akee Finds High Rate of COVID-19 Infection in Indigenous Populations

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in an article on Turtle Talk about his research on the infection rates of COVID-19 on American Indian reservations. Akee joined a team of researchers to investigate the relationship between community and household characteristics and the rate of COVID-19 spread on tribal lands. They found that the rate of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people was more than four times higher for populations residing on reservations than for the U.S. as a whole. Furthermore, they discovered that COVID-19 cases were more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing and less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only. Akee’s team recommended government action to “strengthen tribal public health and household infrastructure and provide potable water and culturally relevant information” to protect American Indian communities from COVID-19 and future pandemics.

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Akee on Stimulus Checks to Help Weather Coronavirus Impact

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about a proposal to send economic stimulus checks to Americans to help them weather the financial impact of COVID-19. As part of a broader economic stabilization plan, the direct government payments to millions of people are seen as a move that could provide quick relief, if not full insulation from the economic shock of the coronavirus. Akee said the payments are especially urgent in households struggling to buy groceries, pay rent and cover car payments, to provide stability until the crisis is over and Americans can return to work. “There are household expenses that people are very concerned about,” he said. “That’s why this cash payment is crucial.”