New census data will hit you where you live

Copyright 2001 Gannett Company, Inc.
Gannett News Service
February 25, 2001, Sunday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 1086 words

HEADLINE: New census data will hit you where you live

BYLINE: CARL WEISER; Gannett News Service


WASHINGTON — Now comes the cool census stuff.

The Census Bureau next month will release the next major batch
of data from its 2000 census: population, race and Hispanic ethnicity
available for each county, township, neighborhood — even your

“You’re getting local. That’s the cool thing here,”
said Edward J. Spar, executive director of the Council of Professional
Associations on Federal Statistics, which represents groups that
rely on federal statistics.

“It’s interesting things like did Baltimore city grow or
decline in population? Where in the state of Texas did population
shifts occur?” the Census Bureau’s Cathy McCully said. “You
get your first look at race distribution. Your first look at the
under-18 population — where the high fertility rates might be.”

The numbers to be released in March are aimed primarily at political-data
junkies in state capitols, who will use them to draw new legislative
and congressional district lines. The figures include the number
of people of each group older than 18, the national voting age.

In December, the Census Bureau released the first information
from its 2000 census, but it was simply state population figures
and the corresponding number of congressional seats each state
would get. Now politicos can draw the lines that determine where
those districts are and who your national and state representatives
will be.

But political operatives won’t be alone in gobbling up this data.

— Business will use the information to figure out where to target
mailings, what cities now have the population to sustain their
business, where to market to minorities or how to realign sales

The Census Bureau and other private groups do put out annual estimates
on population. But the actual head count from the 2000 census
“is going to be the first check we’ve had as to whether these
figures are accurate,” said G. Scott Thomas, editor of Demographics
Daily, an online newsletter for business.

At marketing giant Claritas, the data will be used to update its
population estimates, which are based on 1990 census data. Claritas’
clients, which include most Fortune 500 companies, in turn, will
use that information.

“Say, McDonald’s. They’re a client,” offered Claritas
spokesman Steve Moore. “They use our data to determine where
to put their stores, or what they’re going to serve, or the kind
of menu they might develop.”

— Local governments will use the data to plan for schools, roads,
or where, for example, to put bilingual offices.

“That’s how they plan how many seats they need in each classroom,”
said Jacqueline Byers, research director for the National Association
of Counties. And local community colleges can look at the under-18
population and gauge how many students they might need to accommodate
in the future, she said.

‘Micropolitan area’

Some cities are wondering if they will lose status as a metropolitan
area, gain that status, or become a new census entity: a “micropolitan

Minimum population for a metropolitan area: 50,000. But some communities
will find themselves a micropolitan area, the new designation
for places 10,000 to 50,000 people. The boundaries of the metro
areas will be set much later, after commuting data come in.

“There’s a certain status that comes with being a metro area,”
McCully said.

— The federal government uses population data to dispense grant
money. About $ 185 billion in federal grant money in fiscal 1998
was dispensed using census population data, according to the General
Accounting Office.

But many of the largest federal grant programs such as Medicaid,
special education, foster care or food aid also are based on income
statistics or other census data that will be released during the
coming year.

The importance of the data is one reason at least four cities
and a county are fighting about whether to use estimates to adjust
the data to make up for people — largely minorities — who were
missed, or people who were counted twice. Many scientists support
adjusting the data, but government officials, including most Republicans,
are worried that adjusting will create phantom Americans.

Los Angeles, Inglewood and Santa Clara County in California; Stamford,
Conn.; and San Antonio, Texas, filed their lawsuit Wednesday to
prevent the Bush administration’s commerce secretary from making
the decision on adjusting. They want the bureau to decide, in
hopes of getting the adjustment.

Undercounts in the 1990 census left health planners unprepared
for 400,000 uninsured Americans, distorted transportation planning
and shortchanged areas with high levels of child poverty — because
those children were missed, according to several members of the
U.S. Census Monitoring Board, a government panel created in 1997
to track the 2000 census.

“If millions of America’s poor, minorities, children and
newest residents are disenfranchised over the next 10 years, they
will not only be left behind, they will never catch up,”
board co-chairman Gilbert F. Casellas said.

But members of the board appointed by the GOP Congress complained
that Casellas was stirring up racial tensions and said the 2000
census was one of the most accurate in history.

— Demographers, social scientists, researchers, and of course,
reporters, will use the data to calculate anything based on population
or race: crime rates, education level, or health.

The race data are vital for determining racial disparities in
jobs or housing, for example.

“It’s a field day for the Ph.D.s,” Spar said. “Sociologists
and demographers, they’re all chomping at the bits.”

For the first time, the census data will show how many Americans
consider themselves multiracial. Americans were allowed to check
more than one of the six categories; the combinations total 63.

The new numbers “will show that people are not sticking to
their own so-called ‘race,‘ that the intermarriage rates are going
up, that people are feeling more free to shed the “one drop
of blood” rule,” said James A. Landrith Jr., editor
of and The Multiracial Activist.

As a white Alexandria, Va., man married to a black woman, Landrith
said he hoped the new data “will help us get past this obsession
with race this country has.”

On the Web, Census Bureau, Census Monitoring Board, Claritas


Copyright 2001 Gannett News Service

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