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Statistics in the News: Chapter 4 Generating New Data: Census Taking and Sampling

Census 2000 Undercount May Cost States Over $4 Billion

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country's population on April 1, 2000 came to precisely 281,421,906 persons. Yet Chapter 4 provides plenty of reasons for believing that no national census can possibly be that accurate. Indeed, in the spring of 2001, the Census Bureau took a sample of 314,000 households nationwide and concluded that the 2000 census had missed 6.4 million people (disproportionately minority, children, and the poor) and counted 3.1 million people twice (largely white and affluent) for a net undercount of 3.3 million people.

Anticipating this sort of problem, the U.S. Congress had established a bipartisan Census Monitoring Board in 1997 to monitor Census 2000 operations. Subsequently, the board reported its findings to Congress every six months and submitted a final report in September 2001. (The Board was composed of eight members: four appointed by the President, two appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and two appointed by the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.)

But the monitoring panel was heavily politicized. Over the objections of its Republican members, the four Clinton appointees on the Monitoring Board commissioned a study of the financial consequences of the undercount for affected states and counties (all of which were expected to lose substantial amounts of federal aid). The study was released in August 2001. Based on an analysis of the undercount by Eugene P. Ericksen, a professor of statistics at Temple University, PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the nation's leading professional services firms, projected the effects of the undercount on the distribution of federal money.

The report estimated that the 2000 census undercount could result in a federal funding loss of more than $4 billion in 31 states and the District of Columbia, with a majority of the
funds lost ($3.6 billion) in 58 of the nation's largest counties over the next ten years. The funding loss translates into nearly $3,000 per uncounted person in these counties.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report examined eight programs most affected by the census: Medicaid, Foster Care, Rehabilitation Services Basic Support, Social Services Block Grants, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants, Adoption Assistance, Child Care and Development Block Grants, and Vocational Education Basic Grants. "These findings present the most compelling evidence of the potential harm caused by the 2000 census undercount," said Gilbert F. Casellas, Presidential Co-Chair of the Monitoring Board. "The undercount will cost state and local governments billions of dollars in funds that are earmarked for programs that largely serve our nation's most disadvantaged."

The report found states and counties with large metropolitan areas were the most adversely affected. California and Texas, two of the worst counted states, risk losing the most, $1.5 billion and $1 billion respectively over the fiscal 2002 to 2012 period. Counties topping the list included Los Angeles County, CA ($636 million), Bronx County, NY ($362 million), Kings County, NY ($269 million), Harris County, TX ($234 million), New York County, NY ($212 million) and Cook County, IL ($193 million). The report also found that large counties would not only share in state losses, but would also lose funds to other areas within the state because of the high relative undercount of urban centers.

Congress allocates approximately $185 billion in Federal funds each year based on each state's respective share of the U.S. population, as determined every 10 years by the census. "The undercount not only deprives Congress of its ability to direct federal funds where they are needed, it also denies taxpayers the right to have their money come back to their community in the form of federal program funds," concluded Casellas.

The Republican Congressional members of the Board put out a terse statement in reaction to the study: "When the Census Bureau completes its analysis this fall, these numbers will prove to be wrong."

Sources: Adapted from Janny Scott, "Census Study Says $4 Billion Is Undercount's Cost to States," The New York Times, August 8, 2001, p. A16, and the web sites of the U.S. Bureau of the Census (at and the U.S. Census Monitoring Board (at


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