Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Down for the Count?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Down for the Count?

Article excerpt

Every census of a vast country like the United States is an estimate. Millions don't respond to the mailed census forms, and every front door can't be visited by follow-up head-counters - particularly in tightly packed urban areas.

The count came up so short in 1990 (at least 10 million) that the Census Bureau devised a plan for using sampling methods to arrive at a more accurate estimate next time around, in 2000. Sampling is an almost universally accepted statistical tool. But Republicans in Congress have dug their heels in - no sampling!

Why? Sampling's critics may say it's because the Constitution specifies an "actual enumeration." But the Constitution also says that the counting shall be done "in such manner" as Congress directs. There's nothing barring techniques like sampling. The real issue here is political, not constitutional. Some in the GOP don't really want a more accurate count of the hardest-to-find Americans, the poor and new immigrants who typically vote Democratic. Larger numbers in those categories could affect the political character of congressional districts allotted to states after 2000, when the new census becomes the basis for reapportionment. Specifically, it might become harder to create "safe" Republican House seats. But the effects of an undercount go beyond representation. They can skew the distribution of a range of federal assistance programs, since localities partake according to their populations. Beyond governmental concerns, businesses assessing markets and researchers analyzing society rely on census numbers. After 1990, the calls for improvement were loud. The sampling procedures drawn up by the Census Bureau are a far cry from "guessing," as some charge. The counting process would begin with the traditional mailed census questionnaire, sent to every dwelling on a master address list for the country. In 1990, about 65 percent of households responded. Follow-up interviewers will contact a large number of those who don't respond, with an emphasis on areas with high rates of non-response. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.