The official Census Bureau enumeration of Americans (not counting those overseas) announced last December set the number at 248,709,873. This was so obviously erroneous as to be laughable -- if the stakes were not so high, especially for Baltimore and other big cities. Census demographers had estimated the resident population at 253.4 million. Even that, it now turns out, was too low. Last week, after a comprehensive, sophisticated and believable statistical study, the bureau reported that the number of resident Americans on Census Day, 1990, was 253,978,000.
As for Baltimore, its official population should be 772,079, which is the adjusted figure from the study reported last week, not the 736,014 of the simple head count reported last December.
We used to believe simple enumeration -- plain old head count -- was preferable to a statistical adjustment. But that was when enumeration was thought to be able to come within a mere 1 percent of actuality. The undercount of 1980 was 1.4 percent, demographers calculated at the time. Expensive and highly professional preparation for 1990 led many to believe that that error would be reduced. Instead it got worse -- to about 2.2 percent.