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Thursday, June 10, 1999
Jimmy Andrews

Census Monitoring Board... Counting the hard-to-count

Kenneth Blackwell, chairman of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board (CMB), met with Lauderdale County officials Wednesday to express his concern that minorities in the area may not be counted in the 2000 census.

"In Mississippi, 93 percent of your population lives in communities with under 100,000 people.  So, that means you cannot depend on a computer or formula to find Mississippians.  You have to do it at the community level," Blackwell said.

Congress established the CMB in November 1997.  The eight-member bipartisan panel monitors all aspects of the 2000 census, expected to count more than 275 million Americans.

"The issue is serious, in part because each of the last five counts has continued the chronic undercount of minority communities, low-income neighborhoods and children," Blackwell said.

"It is contentious, in part, because the Clinton administration plans to use a statistical survey to adjust the final count of people - to add and subtract people from the census."

Blackwell said this will result in hard-to-count areas not receiving their fair share of political representation and funding for vital services.

"In 1990, we did not count about 1.8 percent of our population.  That translates into about 4.7 million -- and most of them were low-income and from rural communities.  Half were children, and under five."

The federal government will spend $5 billion on the 2000 census.

"We need to have a solution to the problem," said Jimmie Smith, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors.

Blackwell gave him one.

"You've got to get the people who live in the communities involved in getting a correct count.  You've got to recruit numerators, but those numerators have to take and understand the test that is given.  The test is very difficult, at best," he said.

"I can tell you right now, no matter how many tests you pass, if you don't come from the neighborhoods where the hard-to-count live, it will be hard to open those doors."

Mississippi stands to lose a Congressional seat if the 2000 census reports a declining population.

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