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Census Bureau releases adjusted count

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    NMU         NINTH CIRCUIT         Freedom of Information         Dec 6, 2002    

Census Bureau releases adjusted count

  • After a federal appeals court ordered the release of the statistically adjusted census count under the Freedom of Information Act, the Census Bureau Dec. 5 released the data, which show an undercount of about 3.3 million people across the United States.

The Census Bureau Dec. 5 provided journalists and other requesters with CD-ROMs containing the data from its statistically adjusted count.

The release came after a federal appeals court in Portland, Ore., Oct. 8 ordered the data’s release, ruling that the adjusted counts were not exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

After it conducted its initial 2000 count, the Census Bureau used statistical sampling to get a more accurate count where census takers were unable to contact residents.

The newly released adjusted data show that about 3.3 million U.S. residents were missed by the 2000 Census count.

And although the Census Bureau released the numbers, it does not appear to be standing behind them. Along with the data files, the CD-ROM contained a disclaimer saying that “the estimates dramatically overstate the level of undercoverage in Census 2000.”

In March 2001, the Secretary of Commerce decided that unadjusted data from Census 2000 should be used to tabulate population counts reported to states and localities. Census counts are used for redistricting purposes and to allocate federal funding to states and communities.

The decision to use the actual count rather than a statistical sampling came under fire by several groups who said the unadjusted count left out significant numbers of poor, immigrants and minorities.

Oregon state senators Margaret Carter (D-Portland) and Susan Castillo (D-Eugene) challenged the denial of the adjusted figures, saying that because the census tally is used to determine redistricting and funds allocation needs, the public has a strong interest in knowing what the second count could reveal. They won in federal district and appeals courts.

For news organizations, the information provides a new opportunity to examine how the Census was conducted.

“It’s certainly something we can’t ignore — 3.3 million Americans– that’s a big number even for a big country,” said Frank Bass, director of computer-assisted reporting for The Associated Press.

Bass said he is informing reporters of the Census Bureau’s disclaimer.

“[We’re] advising them of the complications and the need to talk to both sides. Many people believe there’s a political advantage to having adjusted data and many believe there’s an advantage to unadjusted data.”

The U.S. Supreme Court already has drawn the line on which data are to be used for creating federal political districts, ruling that the adjusted numbers cannot be used for redistricting. States and communities may, however, may use the adjusted data to realign political boundaries or redistribute funding.

(Carter v. Dept. of Commerce; attorney: Thomas Susman, Ropes and Gray, Washington, D.C.) JL

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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