Census leaves social agencies worried

The Associated Press
Saturday March 17, 2001

LOS ANGELES — At the downtown headquarters of Chicana Service Action Center, soon-to-be released U.S. Census Bureau statistics represent more than numbers. 

Sophia Esparza, the nonprofit agency’s executive director, said the data reflects the people who depend on the agency’s domestic violence shelters, youth job training services and welfare-to-work programs offered primarily to the region’s poor Hispanics.  

The Census Bureau itself estimates there was a net national undercount in the 2000 Census of about 1.2 percent of the population, or 3.3 million people, down from 1.6 percent or 4 million people in 1990. 

There historically has been a higher undercount of the nation’s poor, infants and minorities. 

which is known as a “differential undercount.” The trend appears to be continuing, with surveys following the 2000 Census estimating a net undercount for Hispanics of about 3 percent. 

The undercount issue is acute in California, where an estimated 900,000 people, or 2.73 percent, were not counted in the 1990 Census. 

A Commerce Department decision to use raw numbers instead of adjusted figures has been challenged by Los Angeles and other cities and counties that have banded together in a lawsuit against the federal agency, which oversees the decennial count. In recently filed court documents, city attorneys called the government’s refusal to adjust the numbers through statistical sampling techniques “the civil rights issue of the decade.” 

“The Census Bureau by its own admission missed counting 3.3 million Americans,” City Attorney Jim Hahn said. “That is a totally unacceptable situation. In Los Angeles, vital political representation and an estimated $325 million in federal and state funding allocated on the basis of population is at stake, and we will take every legal action we can to assure the most accurate count of city residents.” 

The Chicana Service Action Center, which has been offering services since 1972, relies on Census demographics when applying for its share of the $185 billion in federal funding doled out each year. 

The group recently received a $1.3 million grant for a welfare-to-work program in Huntington Park, a heavily Hispanic area about 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. 

“We got that funded by looking at statistics,” she said. “We had to find out where the employers are, the number of welfare mothers and children. Census data gives us key indicators of demographics, which is needed when you’re looking at siting services.” 

The impact an undercount will have on funding will be felt throughout the state, officials said. 

California lost out on $2.2 billion worth of federal funding due to the 1990 Census undercount, said Linda Gage, chief of the demographic research unit for the state Department of Finance. An independent study has estimated the state could lose $5 billion over the next 10 years if unadjusted data is used for funding, Gage said. 

Census officials said no decision has been made yet on whether to release adjusted data in the future. A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that raw numbers must be used to apportion Congressional seats, but did not block the use of sampled data for in-state redistricting and the allocation of federal funds. 

The bureau’s own statisticians in early March recommended releasing raw data for redistricting purposes after concluding that discrepancies with other demographic surveys could not be resolved by April 1, the legal deadline for releasing redistricting data to the states. 

At the Chicana Service Action Center, officials hope the city will prevail in its lawsuit and force the release of adjusted data. 

“If they don’t release adjusted numbers we will not be able to implement our programs strategically,” Esparza said. “The demand will not go away just because people were not counted by the Census Bureau.” 


On the net: U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/