The Constitution of the United States requires that an "actual enumeration" of the population take place every ten years for the purposes of apportioning the membership of the Congress. In 1790, the year of the first census, 17 U.S. marshals and their assistants counted 4 million Americans. Two hundred years later, in 1990, 300,000 census workers counted nearly 250 million people, and the vast majority were counted in the right place. Those results were good – Census 2000 needs to be better. The countdown to Census 2000 has begun, and that census, like those before it, will answer two simple questions:
How many people are in the United States, and where are they located?
The accuracy of the answers to these important questions will determine whether political representation and public funding in this country is fair or falls prey to partisan influence or even abuse.
To protect the integrity of the census process, the Congress passed legislation establishing the Census Monitoring Board, a bipartisan oversight committee made up of eight members – four appointed by the Congress and four by the President. This report, the first in a series of reports by the Congressional Members of the Board, addresses the issue of fairness and local accuracy in the upcoming Census 2000 and the Census Bureau’s proposed plans. It also offers a series of initial recommendations to improve the process. Because the recent Supreme Court ruling prohibits the Bureau’s use of statistical adjustment in Census 2000 for apportionment purposes, this report, with its focus on ways to ensure a better, more reliable census without statistical adjustment, becomes all the more important.
We all agree that inequities did occur in the 1990 census that must be addressed. Of the roughly two percent of people in the U.S. who were not counted, a disproportionate number were Black, Latino, Asian or Native American. Most of those uncounted rented homes or apartments in urban or rural areas. Most disturbing, more than half were children.
These were real people who deserved their fair share of political representation and government funding. Correcting this disproportionate undercount (the differential undercount) in a way that assures both the validity of census data and, in particular, the inclusion of minority communities who have not been properly represented in the past, is the goal of Census 2000 and a chief concern of the Congressional Members of the Census Monitoring Board.
Real People, Where They Really Live
The Congressional Members of the Board strongly disagree with the Census Bureau’s reliance on statistical adjustment. This report asks and answers a question:
When it comes to the census, if proven methods can find real people, why do we want to guess?
We don’t; and we don’t have to. Because we have the ability to find people using local knowledge and local records, we also have the responsibility to find real people where they really live.
To be of any benefit, the census must find people where they live – in blocks and neighborhoods.
This is why. Fair shares of political representation and public funds are distributed according to geographic or political areas – not demographic groups. If the census determines how many Hispanics live in California, but not how many Hispanics live in a Los Angeles barrio, the people living in that barrio still won’t get their fair share of political representation or public funding for vital services.
This report contains examples of targeted methods that can add specific people at specific addresses. These methods offer greater local accuracy than any statistical adjustment – and a greater chance for real people to receive their fair share.
In addition to recommendations for a significantly improved census in 2000, this report also contains a number of preliminary conclusions concerning what we believe are the roadblocks to a fair and accurate census.
The Congressional Members’ fundamental disagreement with the Department of Commerce’s plan is not with its objective: counting every person accurately. Our disagreement is with the means of achieving that goal.
We favor a dedicated focus of resources, efforts and time on methods that will improve local accuracy by using new technology to access new information sources; target geographic areas with traditional undercount problems for special attention; and open the census process, before and after, to local and state participation and input.
To the greatest extent possible, we favor finding real people, where they really live.