Report: Md. Hispanic population far exceeded estimates

Census counted about 46,000 more individuals than had been anticipated, Pew says

March 31, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

The Hispanic population's growth in Maryland and several other states far outpaced previous estimates, according to an analysis of census data released this week.

In Maryland, the 2010 census counted about 46,000 more Hispanic individuals than the Census Bureau had estimated were in the state, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan group that studies the country's Hispanic population.

At 10.7 percent, Maryland's was the fourth-largest underestimate in the country, behind Alabama, Louisiana and Kansas, the center reported this week. Nationally, the 2010 census counted about 1 million more Hispanics than had been expected, according to the report.

D'Vera Cohn, one of the authors of the report, said the findings indicate that those states with large gaps between their estimated and actual Hispanic populations also had large differences between their total estimated and actual populations.

"Because Hispanics are driving so much of what happens nationally and in many if not most states, then that makes sense," Cohn said.

In the past decade, nearly half of all of Maryland's growth occurred in the Hispanic community, and the Hispanic population more than doubled in size to 471,000 people, according to the Census Bureau.

Roberto Ramirez, who heads the ethnicity and ancestry branch of the bureau's population division, said Maryland, Virginia and other Southeastern states experienced a rapid rise in their Hispanic populations over the past decade, which might explain the low estimates.

"When you start with a small base and you have a rapid growth in a population, it could be harder to measure in a short-term time period," Ramirez said.

Essentially an annual update of the most recent census counts, the population estimates are determined using data from birth and death certificates, immigration rates and tax returns. They serve as a major source of demographic data in off-census years and help guide the flow of billions of dollars in federal funds to states and local areas.

Federal programs such as the Social Services Block Grants, which provide funding for a wide range of services, including adoption, health care, housing and transportation, use the population estimates in their formulas to determine funding to states, according to the Government Accountability Office. Maryland received nearly $31.5 million in block grant funds in the 2010 fiscal year.

The report did not lay out specific reasons for the mismatch in numbers. In the coming months, Cohn said, the Pew Hispanic Center will look into possible factors, including higher-than-expected immigration or a better-designed 2010 Census.

Cohn noted that the gap of about 2 percent between the nationwide estimated number of Hispanics and the number counted in 2010 was a vast improvement since a decade ago, when the national estimates and counts differed by about 10 percent.

Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning, said the difference between the estimates and official counts of Hispanics may be due to the difficulty in tracking trends in foreign immigration in off-census years.

And the 2010 census may have been more accurate than the one conducted in 2000, managing to capture more of the state's Hispanic population, Goldstein said.

"There was a concentration of effort on what was called the 'hard-to-enumerate' populations," he said, including not just Hispanics, but also immigrants, non-English speakers and the poor.

Eduardo D. Hayden, who works as a liaison to the Hispanic community for Baltimore County, said the Census Bureau worked especially hard last year to assure Hispanic immigrants that filling out the census would not lead to deportation.

Though they are less precise than the decennial counts, municipalities take the population estimates seriously. Maryland officials, especially Baltimore leaders, have successfully argued several times in the past decade that estimates of their populations were too low, and had them revised upward by thousands of residents.

The state with the highest discrepancy between its estimates and the actual count was Alabama, where the 2010 count of 186,000 Hispanics was 15.9 percent higher than the previous estimate. In Alaska, the opposite happened: The Census Bureau counted just 39,000 Hispanics in 2010, or about 14.3 percent fewer than expected.

Delaware was right behind Maryland in the difference between its estimated and actual Hispanic populations, with 10.4 percent — 7,000 — more Hispanics in the state than previously thought.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jtorbati

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