Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

House Lays Trap for Census Sample Count

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

House Lays Trap for Census Sample Count

Article excerpt

In a spending bill funding various federal departments, the House of Representatives voted last week to prohibit the Census Bureau from using statistical sampling to conduct the nation's census until the Supreme Court rules on whether the technique is constitutional. President Clinton has threatened to veto the FY 1998 Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill over the issue.

If signed into law, the provision could negatively impact cities because an undercount could give them an unfair allocation of political representation and government benefits after the decennial court is made.

"State and local governments use census data to draw legislative districts of equal population. The Federal Government uses census data to distribute billions of dollars in grants according to population-based formulas. Federal, tribal, State and local officials study the patterns of detailed census data before constructing hospitals, highways, bridges and schools," said Congressman Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) during floor debate on the measure.

Plans to use statistical sampling to account for the ten percent of the population the census is unable to reach have been attacked by many in Congress who prefer an old-fashioned head count, which they say is mandated by the constitution.

"This prohibition directly contradicts the opinion of virtually every independent, expert review of the Bureau's 2000 census plan, that a limited use of sampling and statistical estimation to supplement an aggressive direct counting effort is the only way to address the persistent, disproportionate undercount of people of color, the rural and urban poor, and children," wrote NLC President Mark Schwartz in a letter to members of the House before the vote.

The Supreme Court's review, as required by the bill, would take several months effectively stopping the Census Bureau from conducting a full-scale dress rehearsal scheduled for March 1998. …

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