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Census overcounts LI, undercounts minorities

A copy of a 2010 Census form is

A copy of a 2010 Census form is shown at a Census Day event in Caldwell, Idaho. (April 1, 2010) Credit: AP

The 2010 Census overcounted the nation's population by about 36,000 people, a rate of just 0.01 percent, yet the census still undercounted several minority groups despite outreach efforts, according to estimates released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

New York and Long Island showed higher overcounts: 0.79 percent for the state, 0.82 for Nassau County and 0.16 for Suffolk County. While the bureau provided a breakdown for racial groups at the national level, that breakdown was not available at the state and county level.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant and blogger for The Census Project, a national coalition of organizations seeking a fair and accurate census, said that despite the small overcounts in the region, "the census likely still missed people in the state and in the counties."

Lowenthal added, "even if there's a net overcount, some communities -- especially minority, poorer and immigrant communities -- are going to get less than their fair share of resources and political representation as compared to communities where there's more likely an overcount," alluding to the role census data plays in the allocation of government funding to communities and political representation. She said communities with overcounts tended to be affluent and white.

Lowenthal applauded the bureau for producing a "good, high quality census." She said she was concerned that the undercount of minorities persisted in the 2010 Census.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves spoke to those issues in a news conference from Washington, D.C.

"On this one evaluation -- the net undercount of the total population -- this was an outstanding census," Groves said. In response to questions, Groves added that nevertheless the groups that have been traditionally hard to count -- blacks, Hispanics and American Indians living on reservations -- have remained so.

Groves alluded to efforts the bureau had undertaken to reach minorities, such as partnering with hundreds of thousands of community groups and hiring people from within those communities to work as census takers, particularly sending in census takers who could speak the language prevalent in communities with a high percentage of non-English speakers.

"Without that," Groves said of those efforts, "this traditional pattern would have been much, much worse."

To measure the accuracy of the 2010 Census, the bureau used what it called a "post enumeration survey," something it has been doing since 1950. The latest survey was based on a sample of 300.7 million people, out of the 308.7 million people counted in the 2010 Census. The survey's sample excluded group quarters, such as nursing homes and prisons, and the remote regions of Alaska.

The bureau's survey estimated that 94.7 percent of the population was counted correctly, and about 3.3 percent were counted erroneously. The errors include duplicated counts of people, or included people who died before Census Day (April 1, 2010), for example.

It found the 2010 Census overcounted the non-Hispanic white population by 0.8 percent; undercounted the black population by 2.1 percent; undercounted the Hispanic population by 1.5 percent; and undercounted American Indians and Alaska natives living on reservations by 4.9 percent.

Lowenthal said the undercount of minorities could grow worse if the Census Bureau doesn't have the funds it needs to do the research to try to come up with remedies.

"What concerns me is that the Congress has already directed the census to cut back significantly on its planning for the next census by cutting the budget for those activities," Lowenthal said. "As the nation's population continues to become more diverse and the proportion of the population represented by historically undercounted groups continues to grow, I'm not so sure the Census Bureau can reduce the trend in 2020 without some significant new research into more effective methods."

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