6,000 jurisdictions ask Census Bureau for review of figures

September 24, 1990|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- One-seventh of all the towns, counties and cities in the country, and all of its 51 largest cities, have challenged the Census Bureau's counts of their housing units in the hope of increasing their population figures.

Given this last opportunity to review and challenge the bureau's preliminary figures before the housing and population counts become final Dec. 31, more than 6,000 jurisdictions have filed objections.

The Census Bureau said it could not yet provide a total for the number of missing units claimed by the thousands of communities filing objections.

It is estimated that the combined claims of just the 15 largest cities represent about 1.2 million people, which would make a big difference to some of the cities but would have a slight impact on the nation's overall population figure.

If all the challenges are accepted -- something planning experts say is unlikely -- that would increase the preliminary population count of 245.8 million people by about 0.5 percent.

The stakes in this round of the census remain high. The finishing touches are soon to be put on the population counts that will determine each jurisdiction's share of political power in the next Congress.

In addition, billions of dollars of federal and state aid are apportioned based on population through more than 400 programs for transportation, health, education, housing and community development projects.

There are other things at stake, too.

If Detroit's preliminary population count of 970,000 fails to rise above one million, the city will lose, at least temporarily, some of its taxing authority. Detroit claims 5.1 percent of its housing units went uncounted, and if half of the city's claims are upheld, the population count is likely to rise above 1 million.

New York City's claim of a quarter-million missed dwellings, 8 percent of the housing stock listed by the census, was the biggest challenge.

But, unlike most other major cities, New York did not differentiate between units missed and units counted but placed in the wrong neighborhoods. Relocating a misplaced unit will improve census accuracy but not increase population totals.

After New York, Chicago challenged the largest number of units, claiming nearly 70,000 dwellings were missed, a discrepancy that would mean census figures were 6 percent too low.

Officials in Baltimore and some other cities, while expressing dissatisfaction with the preliminary count, have been less confrontational, saying they welcomed the chance to cooperate in improving the count.

Before 1980, municipalities had virtually no contribution to refining the population count until after the numbers were final.

But for the 1980 census, a fledgling version of the review process was instituted, and it was greatly expanded this year. After the last few jurisdictions file their challenges today, the deadline, the bureau will continue its rechecking and recanvassing.

It has budgeted more than $2 million to recheck up to 2.1 million dwellings. When those checks are finished, a series of internal audits and refinements will be held to ensure that no one has been counted twice.

New York, Chicago and other major cities have long contended their populations are impossible to count with a nose-by-nose method like the Census Bureau's.

They are pressing for a mathematical adjustment of the final figures that would give them relatively greater population figures than they have in the count itself.

A total of 6,260 of the 8,098 jurisdictions that responded to the census said they had been shortchanged, although only 5,102 challenges were filed in a form acceptable to the bureau and it is unlikely the others will be reviewed.

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