2000 Census Yields Unexpected Results

By Desimone, Daniel C. | Government Finance Review, October 2001 | Go to article overview

2000 Census Yields Unexpected Results


Desimone, Daniel C., Government Finance Review


The 2000 Census ushered in the third century of census-taking in the United States, yielding results both expected and surprising. On April 1, 2000, the U.S. population stood at 281,421,906 (Exhibit 1). This figure includes the addition of 32.7 million Americans, marking the largest numerical increase ever recorded from one census to the next. The last census of the 20th century was also the first in which all 50 states increased in population (Exhibit 2).

Although the United States Constitution requires a decennial census for the express purpose of allocating congressional representation, its significance extends far beyond this. The federal government distributes nearly $200 billion ($185 billion in 1998) to the states each year based to some extent on census counts. These federal dollars fund programs ranging from Medicaid and childcare assistance to highway planning and construction to special education and adoption assistance. States redraw their political districts following every census, affecting the outcomes of elections across the country. And census data provides a wealth of information to both the public and private sectors upon which important decisions are made regarding health, education, transportation, the environment, community services, housing, consumer marketing, economic planning, and many other issues. Census results measure progress and provide direction for future actions.

The latest census surprised census officials and demographers who carefully track records of births and deaths, and use sophisticated techniques to estimate immigration from abroad and migration within the country. The following is a list of just a few of the most intriguing census surprises.

* The census counted nearly 7 million more people than the Census Bureau had estimated (and it still may have missed as many as 3 million).

* The Hispanic American population grew much faster than anticipated, surpassing African Americans as the nation's largest racial or ethnic minority.

* New York, Chicago, and several other major cities gained residents, in some cases reversing a decades-old trend of population decline.

* The shift in congressional apportionment was greater than expected as 12 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives shifted from one state to another.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

Tracking changes among racial and ethnic groups became more difficult with the 2000 Census, which was the first to allow respondents to mark more than one race. The federal government added this option because of the increasing number of interracial marriages and multiracial individuals. Of the 281 million people counted in the census, 6.8 million (2.4 percent) identified with two or more races. Four percent of children and 2 percent of adults identified themselves as multiracial.

The racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population is most evident among children. The 2000 Census found that nearly 40 percent of the population under age 18 was African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, American Indian, or another minority. Minorities account for more than half of the non-adult population in five states--Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas--and in selected counties throughout the country. California became the first so-called "minority majority" state, meaning that non-Hispanic whites comprise less than half of the state's total population. The following paragraphs summarize the population and demographic changes among the nation's major ethnic groups.

Hispanic Americans. One of the biggest surprises of the 2000 Census was the phenomenal growth in the Hispanic American population. The Hispanic American population grew by 59 percent during the last decade, from 22 million to 35 million. For the first time, Hispanic Americans now outnumber African Americans, mostly due to higher rates of birth and immigration. Although many blacks immigrated from Africa and the Caribbean, the flow is minor compared with the entry of Hispanic American immigrants from Latin America. …

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