US Census not to be adjusted for undercounts.
March 2, 2001 6:02 AM   Subscribe

US Census not to be adjusted for undercounts. (NY Times, req'd registration)
Many political strategists, Democrats and Republicans alike, say that reliance on unadjusted population figures favors Republicans in the drawing of Congressional districts, since, they say, adjustment through statistical sampling would add to customarily Democratic neighborhoods most of those who have been uncounted.
They visited my home/office four times and never once brought the Long Form. Damnation.
posted by methylsalicylate (13 comments total)
In conveying the recommendation to Mr. Evans in a memorandum, William G. Barron Jr., the Census Bureau's acting director, said a group of experts had simply been unable, in the time allowed them, to determine whether adjusted figures would be more accurate than the unadjusted count. [Note: Bold added by me, to underscore the point.]

Doesn't that sound familiar? The problem I have is, Republicans in the Commerce Department were never interested in whether an adjustment was a plausible or more accurate way to measure demographics. The best interest of politics decided this one weeks ago, when Evans rescinded Clinton's decidedly non-partisan regulation granting authority to the Census Bureau. I suspect Barron realized it, and decided not to raise a ruckus. We know what happens when...

But consider: these data form the basis of all manner of decisions, from local government and federal aid, from social services through to seats in Congress. And this lasts for ten years, long after Bush is gone from office even if he wins a reelection in 2004. Public outcry or not, the expected decision to accept the numbers as they stand is a travesty against American cities.
posted by legibility at 6:59 AM on March 2, 2001

Doesn't that sound familiar?
It does remind me of an amusing story: a friend of mine was at a Republican Party fundraiser two weeks ago in Florida. After dinner, politicians were being "auctioned off" by silent auction (really!) much in the manner of a bachelor auction.
At some point one of the auction wins was contested, a situation to which the MC commented "I guess that means a recount!", and was met with laughter all around. My friend, quite the loudmouth, retorted "How about just a count?" to which the room fell silent.
A lady seated nearby leaned over to him, admonishing, "Honey, you shouldn't say such things - you're a Republican!" "Yeah," he quipped, "but I'm a troublemaker first."
posted by methylsalicylate at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2001

I managed not to be counted and my congressman is losing his seat. I take full credit, and could not be more pleased.
posted by thirteen at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2001

I managed not to be counted and my congressman is losing his seat. I take full credit, and could not be more pleased.

Now that you're not represented, thirteen, do you not get taxed as well?
posted by holgate at 10:37 AM on March 2, 2001

The census undercount business underscores the importance of more up-to-date record keeping for the government. If they kept better records, there wouldn't be a question of an undercount in the first place.
posted by Loudmax at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2001

Loudmax, how did record keeping affect the census count? I'm not sure what you're getting at...

If you want the Census Bureau to generate numbers more than once every ten years, they've already begun that process with the American Community Survey.
posted by Aaaugh! at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2001

Generating numbers more than once every ten years is a good start. But it shouldn't even be that; they should update their stuff on a daily or hourly basis.

We shouldn't have to fill out our name AND our SS number AND our address everytime we need to do some paperwork, say renewing our driver's licence or filing our taxes, or registering to vote. You should just give them one piece of information and their computers should fill in the rest.

I realize it isn't easy to keep track of 300 million people in a centralized database (hell I can't even keep track of the whereabouts of a dozen close friends and family members). Actually, it might not even be feasable, but the reason would be administrative or political, rather than technical.

I know libertarians wouldn't agree because they're afraid of what the government might do with the information. But I think the more important thing is to make sure the government is respecting everyone's civil rights to begin with, rather than keeping it weak by making it inefficient.
posted by Loudmax at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2001

Whoops, did not see my name mentioned before. I am still represented, I'll just be in someone else's district. The machine that produces congressman is broken, and only spits out Democrats, so the reduction in representation is of little consequence. My taxes are still paid, and Illinois is still a donor state as it always has been. All the Democratic congressmen in the world were not going to change that. All hail the broken machine.

It is really hard to get by if you refuse to give out your SS#. They promised it would never be used to track us, but now you cannot get any utility or service without giving it up. I wish I could go back in time and knock FDR out of his wheelchair.
posted by thirteen at 3:53 PM on March 2, 2001

I think plenty of people who aren't libertarians would be disturbed by a massive national identity database shared between different agencies and levels of government. One reason the Census Bureau is able to collect data as accurately as they do is because they view confidentiality as sacrosanct. If the Census Bureau shared its data with the IRS, fewer people would fill out their forms and many would deliberately report inaccurate data. If they shared their information with various DMVs across the country, there's no way it could remain confidential. The Census Bureau doesn't share private information with anyone, which is as it should be.

As a user of census data products, I find the idea of a real-time census to be fascinating, but I don't know if it's technically feasible. Also, I'm unsure if the added expense of maintaining a real-time database would be worth it when annual numbers are available. I have trouble imagining a situation where you would want to analyze data over a period of less than a year. People don't move that often.
posted by Aaaugh! at 11:39 PM on March 2, 2001

Ain't it a pisser when the Constitution gets in the way of your political agenda? (Translation: Which part of "actual Enumeration" don't you understand?)
posted by aaron at 2:27 PM on March 3, 2001

Which part of "actual Enumeration" don't you understand?

Well, aaron, are you arguing that the count taken by the Census is correct? As thirteen's non-counting illustrates, the current method used isn't producing the right numbers. Since we know we're getting incorrect numbers, why not use a method that we know will produce numbers closer to that "actual Enumeration"? Wouldn't that be the right way to meet the requirements of the Constitution?

[btw, has the Supreme Court considered this issue?]
posted by daveadams at 5:45 PM on March 3, 2001

Yes, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 1999 against statistical sampling. It's a familiar-looking 5-4, isn't it?
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:36 PM on March 3, 2001

Okay, but according to those articles, the decision was based on federal law relating to the census, and not the Constitution's position. The law should be changed, but of course, the political agenda of conservatives is unfortunately getting in the way... :)
posted by daveadams at 12:49 PM on March 4, 2001

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