Sunday, December 31, 2000

Sampling backup urged

Official: Census inexact

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The jury is still out on whether the U.S. Census Bureau will use so-called “sampling” to remedy undercounts that are most acute in cities and rural areas.

        The Census Bureau released state-by-state figures Thursday from its 2000 count. The numbers showed a higher-than-expected nationwide population of 281.4 million, a possible indication the agency did a better job of counting people compared to a decade ago. The “actual” count was accumulated through mailed surveys, phone interviews and household visits to those who didn't respond to the survey.

        Greater Cincinnati officials are awaiting more detailed population counts, due in March, that will include racial and ethnic makeups of counties, cities, neighborhoods and even blocks.

        Cincinnati City Councilman Paul Booth urged the Census Bureau to issue two sets of numbers: actual, and “adjusted” counts using sampling methods. That will ensure a more accurate count, he said.

        “Sampling is more favorable to the community because it takes into consideration areas that may have been missed or undercounted,” said Mr. Booth. “It's obviously important for federal dollars.”

        Cincinnati estimates the 1990 census undercounted the city's population 3 to 4 percent, costing $40 million in federal funds and political clout as district lines for congressional and state legislature seats were redrawn.

        Census director Kenneth Prewitt, who favors sampling, will decide in February whether to release both actual and sampled counts. President-elect George W. Bush can block the release of the sampled numbers, but he hasn't disclosed his plans.

        A transition spokesman would only say Thursday that Mr. Bush wants an accurate and reliable count.

        Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said the Census Bureau's $168 million advertising campaign encouraged greater participation, so he doesn't think sampling will bring a better count.

        “I wouldn't doubt that Cincinnati and Ohio got shortchanged financially from the 1990 census, but this is the 2000 census and it's much more accurate,” said Mr. Blackwell, co-chairman of the Census Monitoring Board established by Congress.

        Hamilton County and Cincinnati could face a greater risk of undercounts than a decade ago. Fewer residents returned 2000 census forms, while national participation increased. That means census workers had to call or visit those who didn't respond to avoid an undercount.

        According to the census, the 70 percent of Hamilton County residents who returned their 2000 forms via mail was 5 percentage points less than that of 1990; Cincinnati's figure was down 6 percentage points, to 61 percent.

        The national average was 67 percent — up 2 percent.

        City and county officials worked to ensure the Census Bureau had an accurate list of households before sending out forms. More than 5,000 changes were made to the Census Bureau's list of Cincinnati households, said Dev Saggar, a city of Cincinnati planner.

        A U.S. General Accounting Office study estimated that the 1990 undercount cost states $449 million in federal aid in 1998, mainly Medicaid. Most of those funds would have been sent to Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, states with large Hispanic populations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

        Other studies by the Census Monitoring Board and Heritage Foundation echoed those findings.

        Mr. Blackwell said a post-census survey of 350,000 households will help validate the accuracy of the census.

        “I don't think there should be a fight over whether we do the (Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation) survey,” Mr. Blackwell said. “Preliminary numbers would suggest the undercount was substantially reduced.”


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