FROM THE ARCHIVES Decision on Census Adjustment Looms (January 29, 2001)

In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.

The attention to the choice of the new Census Director concerns the decision of which numbers the Bureau will release. The national-level data, which determines each state’s representation in Congress (apportionment), were made public at the end of December. However, the block-level data are scheduled to be available in March; these will include the raw “head count” figures. The controversy surrounds whether the Bureau will also release statistically-adjusted figures; this is currently unclear.

Statistical adjustment, or sampling, is used to correct for the two types of coverage error that usually results from the traditional Census methodology: failure to count individuals and mistakenly including individuals or counting them twice. The degree of error is determined through the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation (ACE), which is conducted independently of other Census activities and is open to scientific peer review. Most statisticians regard the adjusted figures as more accurate[…]

Bush’s spokesman, when asked about Bush’s intentions, has, of late, consistently responded that he supports an “actual head count,” which appears to be a softer way of conveying opposition to sampling. According to Roll Call, Bush aides said one of his first acts as president “would be to block the Bureau’s release of census findings that are reached through sampling.” […]

Adding further ammunition to their cause, the Census Monitoring Board members who were appointed by President Clinton recently released a number of studies that reveal the expected consequences of failing to correct an undercount. One recent study, for example, shows that more than 20 percent of infants were missed in the 1990 Census, and warns that similar results are possible in Census 2000. Without statistical adjustment, the report cautions, health and education programs that serve the nation’s children could be underfunded. The Census Monitoring Board is a bipartisan board that monitors the Census Bureau’s conduct of the 2000 Census[…]

With political representation and federal funds at stake, the battle is likely to escalate soon. Although the deadline for release of the final census figures is April 1, the data could be released as early as March; action on the decision to adjust could come sooner.

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