Adjustment of '90 census is ruled out Mosbacher notes undercount, calls his decision 'fairest'

July 16, 1991|By Kathleen Beeman | Kathleen Beeman,Special to The Sun James Bock of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. refused yesterday to adjust the 1990 census results despite an acknowledged undercount, --ing the hopes of large cities and some states for a boost in federal aid and political clout.

Mr. Mosbacher's decision, precipitated by a court order, affects about $59 billion in aid allocated annually on the basis of census numbers. It also could affect the makeup of congressional, state and local legislative districts.

The Census Bureau said about 5.3 million Americans were missed in the 248.7 million total.

"After a thorough review, I find the evidence in support of an adjustment to be inconclusive and unconvincing," Mr. Mosbacher said at a news conference. "Any upward adjustment of one [population] share necessarily means a downward adjustment of another. Because there are losers for every winner, we needed really solid ground to stand on to make any changes. I did not find solid enough ground."

The proposed adjustment was based on the results of a post-census survey of 165,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau. According to the estimate, about 2 percent of the population was missed in the census.

Minority groups make up the bulk of the uncounted group. Blacks were undercounted by 4.8 percent, Hispanics by 5.2 percent, Asian-Pacific Islanders by 3.1 percent and American Indians by 5 percent, the survey found.

"I am deeply troubled by this problem of differential participation and undercount of minorities," Mr. Mosbacher said. "Ultimately, I had to make a decision which was fairest for all Americans."

In 200 years of taking censuses, the government has never revised official counts, and Mr. Mosbacher said he did not feel he could "abandon" that long tradition.

An adjustment would make the population counts of 29 states more accurate and those of 21 states less accurate, Mr. Mosbacher said. Only 11 of the 23 metropolitan areas with 500,000 or more people would have more precise figures, he said. And as the jurisdictions become smaller, including small and medium-sized cities, the figures become "increasingly unreliable," he said.

Cities that would have benefited from an adjustment include Baltimore; Phoenix; Washington; Jacksonville, Fla.; Chicago; New York; Memphis, Tenn.; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Houston and San Antonio.

Baltimore's population would have increased to 772,000 from 736,014. Yesterday's decision cemented Montgomery County, with 757,027 residents, as Maryland's most populous jurisdiction.

The Census Bureau estimated that Maryland's population of 4.8 million was undercounted by 1.8 percent -- less than the nationwide average -- but that 4.7 percent of Baltimore's residents were missed.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had urged Mr. Mosbacher to adjust the count, and they expressed disappointment yesterday that he did not.

"The question [of whether] to adjust the census count was one of fairness and equity. Secretary Mosbacher's action means that at least 5 million Americans remain uncounted for the 1990 census," Mr. Schaefer said in a statement.

Mr. Schmoke called for congressional hearings on yesterday's decision and said he will review whether Baltimore will join a big-city lawsuit aimed at forcing an adjustment of the census.

"I strongly disagree with the decision made by Mosbacher and hope the president reverses the decision," Mr. Schmoke said in a statement.

Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said, "This decision will rob our cities of millions of dollars needed to deliver essential services to people in need. In the face of this decision, the United States Conference of Mayors will conduct a full court press to ensure that our people are counted."

A New York court had ordered Mr. Mosbacher to announce a decision today. According to the court order, Mr. Mosbacher could have justified an adjustment only by proving that the survey estimates were more precise than the census results and by providing evidence of the improvement not only for the total population but also for towns and even neighborhoods.

Two panels of experts and statisticians advised Mr. Mosbacher on the adjustment question. Seven of the nine Census Bureau employees on an Undercount Steering Committee favored an adjustment, and an eight-member advisory panel of non-governmental experts split 4-4.

Barbara Bryant, director of the Census Bureau, argued for an adjustment. She said yesterday, "Adjustment would correct the historical problem the Census Bureau has labored against for fifteen years, the larger undercount of blacks than of non-blacks. Statistical adjustment would improve the accuracy of the 1990 census for the majority of the states and the places where the majority of the nation's population live."

About 30 suits, including the one that prompted Mr. Mosbacher's decision, have been filed against the Census Bureau by states and large cities, which contend that they are being cheated by the undercount. But Mr. Mosbacher said he is "prepared to defend" his decision.

Minority groups reacted quickly, saying they will vigorously fight the decision through the federal court system.

"Essentially, what Mosbacher and Bush said is, 'Tough luck,' " said Arturo Vargas, spokesman for the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, one of the groups suing the federal government. "This decision has damaged the Census Bureau's credibility. Next time the census comes around, people will say, 'What's the use? You don't want to count us anyway.' "

Black groups also will campaign against Mr. Mosbacher's decision, said David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Policy Studies, a leading black think tank.

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