The official 1990 count from the Census Bureau is in -- 249,632,692 (including Americans overseas). No one -- no one -- believes there are that few Americans. Even Commerce Department officials who describe the 1990 tally as "full, fair and efficient" know that several million Americans were not counted. Last fall, a Census Bureau estimate of the resident population (not including Americans overseas) was 253.4 million. The actual count of residents released Wednesday was 248,709,873. Experts in and out of government know the estimate is better than the count.
For gross apportionment purposes, the counting error is of no consequence. A perfect count would result in the same distribution of House of Representative seats among the states. Maryland would still have the same eight it had in the 1980s and will have in the 1990s based on the under-count. New York would still lose three seats, California would still gain seven, and so on.
But that does not mean imperfect counting is inconsequential. Census under-counting occurs primarily in urban areas, especially minority neighborhoods. This has two very harmful effects. One, redistricting for city and state legislatures and Congress is skewed against the people in those neighborhoods. Two, government aid programs based on specific groups of the population (the aged, the young, the ill, the unemployed, etc.) are not funded fully and fairly. In the last 10 years, Mayor Kurt Schmoke recently told a congressional committee, Baltimore was shortchanged $230 million because of the 1980 Census under-count.