Census appeal planned by city

O'Malley expects figures showing population loss since 2000 to be revised

`Some degree of uncertainty'

May 02, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Convinced that an estimate of a continued sharp decline in Baltimore's population is off-base, city officials are planning a formal challenge to the U.S. Census Bureau figures released this week.

Census officials -- acknowledging "some degree of uncertainty" in the first post-census 2000 estimates for more than 3,000 jurisdictions nationwide -- say they would welcome added data from the city and would issue a corrected estimate if the information warrants it.

"To let that estimate go unchallenged does damage to the progress we've been making," Mayor Martin O'Malley said.

O'Malley said he "absolutely" expects the Census Bureau to revise its estimates for the city after reviewing the challenge. He said he expects that the revisions will show that the city's population was "at least the same" as reported in the 2000 census, or slightly higher.

On Monday, the bureau estimated that the city's population declined by 15,944, or 2.4 percent, to 635, 210 in the 15 months between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2001. The rate of decline of about 1,000 residents a month was greater than the average rate during the 1990s.

During that decade, the city lost 84,860 people, the most of any city in the country, according to the 2000 census. But the Census Bureau had estimated before the count that the decline would be 20,000 more than that over the decade.

O'Malley points to that discrepancy as one indication that the census estimate is exaggerated. Other indications include recent increases in taxes related to real estate transactions, marginal decreases in school enrollment and projections by a consortium of planners that the population will increase by mid-decade, he said.

Officials are "going to try to put together an overwhelming case with every piece of data we can get" to persuade the Census Bureau to revise its estimate, said Stephen Kearney, O'Malley's communications director.

Baltimore is the only jurisdiction to say that it will challenge an estimate, census spokesman Robert Bernstein said.

But it is not the only place to complain about the numbers. Officials also are complaining in Iowa, where 70 percent of the counties reportedly lost population, and in Philadelphia, where estimates showed the city losing 25,738 people, more than a third of its loss during the 1990s.

The Census Bureau will try to process any challenge to its estimates as quickly as possible, said Signe I. Wetrogan, an assistant division chief in the population division.

"We feel the estimates are for the most part reliable," she said. "[But] they are not our once-every-10-years count. They are estimates. There is some degree of uncertainty."

Estimates are based on births, deaths, foreign immigration -- and movement between jurisdictions based on information supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Baltimore's estimates showed a "natural increase" of births over deaths of 2,053 and international immigration of 1,445 but a decline of 19,790 in people moving out of the city, for a net decline of 15,944.

The Census Bureau said many jurisdictions showed higher than expected address changes in data supplied by the IRS -- a phenomenon that Wetrogan acknowledged could have thrown off some figures.

Kristen Forsyth, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Planning, said it would be reasonable to assume the Census Bureau overestimated the city's loss as it had during the 1990s but added that the difference would probably not be enough to "change the downward trend."

The department is among a consortium of state, regional and local planners that projected last year that the city population would grow by 2,246 to 653,400 by 2005, an annual growth rate of seven-tenths of 1 percent.

Census estimates released this week also showed growth rates in the five metropolitan counties as higher than annual rates projected by planners. That suggests that county estimates also could be faulty -- or that the estimates for the counties are accurate and the growth is fueled by greater-than-expected migration from the city.

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