Early next year, George W. Bush will make a potentially historic
decision about Census 2000.
The new president must decide whether to permit the United States
Census Bureau for the first time to "statistically adjust" the
numbers gathered in the nationwide door-to-door count.
If the numbers are adjusted, it could add millions of blacks and
Hispanics to the "official" population of the United States. It
could also knock millions of other people off the census rolls -
people who were apparently counted twice. Most of the people
removed would likely come from white households.
Either way, the Bush White House can expect criticism.
Today, the Census Bureau will release the raw, or unadjusted,
numbers from the 2000 census for each of the 50 states. The US
Supreme Court has ruled that the government must use these actual
numbers - not the adjusted ones - to apportion seats in the House
of Representatives among the various states.
However, the court left the way open to used adjusted numbers to
redraw the congressional district lines inside the states. This
could give minorities greater representation in Congress.
Adjusted numbers could also be used to divide up federal aid
monies. Immigrant-rich states like California, Texas, and Florida
could get billions of additional aid dollars over the next decade
if adjusted numbers are made official.
Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census Bureau, notes that in
1990, the estimated nationwide "net undercount" was 4 million
people, or 1.6 percent. That includes an estimated 8 million people
who were missed (mostly minorities) and 4 million people who were
apparently counted twice (mostly whites).
Dr. Prewitt emphasizes that every census since the first one in
1790 has been merely an estimate. It is literally impossible to
count every man, woman, and child, even though thousands of Census
Bureau workers this year tried to do just that.
In lieu of perfection, experts have sought ways to improve the
door-to-door count by statistical sampling.
Here's how it works.
For this year's regular census, America was divided into 11
million blocks. Some of these were ordinary city blocks, bounded on
each side by streets. Others were country blocks that might have
rural roads on three sides and a river on another.
The Census Bureau surveyed all 11 million blocks for the regular
count. But for the statistical survey, Census workers examined a
smaller sample - 11,800 blocks containing 314,000 housing units -
randomly chosen by computer.
In July, after the regular census was finished, 6,000 workers
returned to the 11,800 blocks selected for the statistical follow-
up. Without using any of the data from the first census, they
searched out every person in those blocks to find out who was
living there on Census Day, April 1. …