Mayors condemn census

September 25, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Some of the nation's poorest communities with the greatest needs were "grossly under-counted" by census enumerators, officials of Baltimore and 19 other cities told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The problems with the methods used to count populations were amplified in large urban centers with significant ethnic populations, Los Angeles deputy attorney Jessica Heinz said yesterday.

Fear of overcrowding and immigration laws also deters residents from filling in the form. "People don't believe it is confidential," Heinz said.

The complaints were to be aired today before the House subcommittee on census and population by mayors from Baltimore; Chicago; Denver; Brownsville, Texas; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Meridian, Miss. Cities hope to win congressional support for adjusting the 1990 population figures. However, the final decision on whether to adjust the count rests with Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher, who has until July 15 to decide.

Conference participants agreed that in attempting to persuade the administration to adjust the figures, cities should document any measures they took to aid their local census bureau in counting residents, particularly when the information conflicts with preliminary census counts.

For example, in Los Angeles, sanitation workers wrote down the address of each house in 400 randomly selected city blocks. Their numbers showed 4.5 percent more housing units than were reported in preliminary census numbers, Heinz said. In another study, after counting the number of idle gas meters and examining rent stabilization figures, city workers concluded that vacancy rates in certain neighborhoods were only half those recorded in the preliminary census, Heinz said.

The mayors will also tell the census subcommittee of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee that census officials are failing to give adequate feedback about whether they are incorporating the data provided by cities in their post-census studies.

By knowing how officials used the post-census data, cities could decide whether to demand an increase in the current 2 percent limit on the number of housing units, which cities can challenge, the conference concluded.

The mayors will also ask the census subcommittee to move up to April 1, from the current July 15 date, Mosbacher's deadline for announcing whether or not the census figures will be adjusted nationwide.

Many city's laws require them to redistrict before July 15, which means the newly carved areas would not reflect the latest population figures, the mayoral representatives said.

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