Reverse the census decision

Undercount: Sampling science will make the tally more accurate - and fairer to cities.

October 25, 2001

FOR CITIES like Baltimore, the Bush administration's decision not to statistically correct the 2000 Census head count could be a costly one. Census figures dictate, among other things, who will get $185 billion in federal aid every year.

Medicaid, housing aid and funds for urban and rural development all flow in accordance with population: Governments in counties, cities and towns get help from Washington based on the number of people - especially poor people - living within their boundaries.

Thus the critical importance of the count. Statistical sampling science used in so many other areas of life today could make it more complete. Were it not for the obvious influence of politics, one might suspect that members of the Flat Earth Society had infiltrated the Bush administration.

Of course, cities where the poor tend to live in high concentration also tend to be Democratic. The current administration in Washington is Republican. And the debate in Washington tends to break along partisan fault lines.

Census officials should be congratulated for accomplishing one of the best counts ever - if not the best. But why stop short of a result that allows more accurate targeting of tax dollars in the nation's aid programs?

To ignore what we know about people - that the poor move a lot, suspect authority and can therefore be hard to count - is to punish them for their poverty and to put more strain on already anemic city budgets.

President Bush, who has said his party needs to encompass a bigger tent, could do the right thing and the political thing all at the same time by reversing this decision.

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