City challenges early census estimates 20,000 missing, Schmoke says

September 14, 1990|By Michael A. Fletcher and Mark Bomster | Michael A. Fletcher and Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff Jay Merwin and Bruce Reid contributed to this story.

Pearl Rzeczkowski has lived in the same house on Gough Street for 40 years, but when the Census Bureau did its Baltimore count it somehow missed her.

"Nobody has been around," Rzeczkowski said today.Asked whether she heard that the census was being taken, she said, "I may have heard it but I didn't pay it any mind."

Rzeczkowski apparently is not alone. City officials say she is among an estimated 20,000 Baltimoreans missed during the recent census count. As a result, Baltimore is asking the Census Bureau to adjust preliminary figures showing that the city has lost 66,000 residents -- 8.5 percent of its population -- over the past decade.

The city is among several jurisdictions in the region appealing the preliminary census numbers given to local governments in the past several weeks.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the city is making its appeal because it found more than 1,100 blocks where census-takers missed at least five housing units.

Those omissions could account for about 20,000 city residents, Schmoke said. And if that proves accurate, the inclusion of those residents would raise the city's population from the preliminary count of 720,000 to 740,000.

In 1980, Baltimore's population was pegged at 786,000 -- a figure that city officials contend was 29,000 short. That alleged undercount cost the city $230 million in federal aid during the 1980s, officials said.

The counting of America's population is undertaken every 10 years. Census data are used for a host of governmental tasks from apportioning federal aid to determining where state legislative district lines are drawn.

As a result, an undercount could cost the city more than money. "We expect that we will lose at least one legislative district, maybe two," Schmoke said.

Despite the stakes, Schmoke said the city so far has no plans to join a suit filed by several major cities. The suit, citing the Census Bureau's admitted undercount of blacks and other minorities, is seeking to force the bureau to adjust its figures to compensate for the people missing in the count.

While the city loses population and legislative representation, fast-growing, suburban counties such as Montgomery -- now the largest political subdivision in Maryland -- will gain legislative clout.

In all, the population of the Baltimore region -- which includes the city and Harford, Howard, Baltimore, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties -- has grown by 148,213 to 2.3 million, according to the preliminary census figures.

Maryland's total population is 4,732,934, according to the preliminary count. That marks a 12.2 percent increase since the 1980 census.

Even some Baltimore-area counties that experienced rapid growth are complaining about an inaccurate count.

Census officials missed whole blocks of new developments and underestimated the number of people per household, effectively undercounting Baltimore County by some 10,000 residents, officials there say.

County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen filed the county's appeal of the census yesterday.

Harford County also is appealing the census count, said Stoney E. Fraley, chief of comprehensive planning in the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

Fraley said the county would submit its appeal by the Census Bureau's Monday deadline. Using data from various local sources, Harford officials contend that the Census Bureau shortchanged the county by 2,503 people.

State officials estimate that each person not counted can cost $1,500 a year in entitlements and other aid packages. Fraley added that a rapidly growing county such as Harford needs good head counts to judge the adequacy of public services.

Fraley said the county compared the Census Bureau's data with figures from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Philadelphia Electric Co. and local occupancy permits.

In Anne Arundel County, officials say the Census Bureau's preliminary figures are low by about 7,275 people, or 1.7 percent.

Alexander D. Speer, county demographer, said Anne Arundel would seek a recount in a response to be filed with census officials by Sept. 19.

Carroll County officials are generally pleased with how the count came out -- about 3 percent lower than their own estimates. The Census Bureau count for Carroll was 123,097, which is 27.8 percent more than it was in 1980. But a few apparent, although small, errors need to be corrected.

Micki Smith, a spokeswoman for the county commissioners, said the county also plans to write a letter to the Census Bureau questioning some of the local counts that make up the overall number for Carroll. The most glaring of these was the 86 percent figure for housing occupancy in New Windsor, a town of 860.

Smith said nobody was sure quite what the housing figure should be, but it had to be higher because 14 percent of the town's houses and apartments were not standing empty.

How does she know?

"I live there, that's why," Smith said.

The responses are part of a nationwide process known as Post-Census Local Review, a way for local governments to help correct the errors they see in the preliminary census numbers.

Under that program, the Census Bureau will send out employees to recanvass a maximum of up to 2 percent of the households nationwide that might have been missed in the original census count earlier this year.

The process got under way last month, when the bureau began sending local governments information on the housing units and group quarters -- nursing homes, for example -- within those local areas.

To challenge the preliminary census numbers, the local governments must make their own internal estimates of the number of housing units, based on such factors as utility and sewer hookups and tax assessments.

The Census Bureau will use that information to pinpoint the areas where the local estimates differ most from the bureau's estimate. The bureau will then select the individual blocks to be recounted.

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