Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy over Census Undercounts

Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy over Census Undercounts

Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy over Census Undercounts

Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy over Census Undercounts

Excerpt

My goal is to tell the story of a conflict that pitted census administrators against mayors, governors, and others with primarily political concerns. They clashed over the question of what to do about undercounts in the 1980 and 1990 censuses. As in all disputes, they were pulling in different directions, and had different definitions of the problem. My story tells how the census administrators, many of whom were technical-scientific specialists, dealt with "outsiders" who got powerfully involved in the census process.

As early as 1970, almost 1,900 municipal officials, including mayors of many big cities, complained to the Census Bureau, claiming in each case that the decennial census had undercounted their people (Panel on Decennial Census Plans, 1978). In 1980, the mayors of Detroit, New York, and Chicago sued the federal government, alleging again that the census had undercounted their cities. Altogether there were fifty-four lawsuits over the 1980 census, mostly about undercounting and adjustment (Mitroff, Mason, andBarabba, 1983). In 1988, anticipating an undercount in the 1990 census, a new coalition filed another lawsuit. This coalition included the cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles; Dade County, Florida; the states of New York and California; the U.S. Conference of Mayors; the National League of Cities; the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others. This time the plaintiffs demanded in advance that . . .

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