Census Consensus

Charged by the Constitution to count the population every 10 years, the Census Bureau made a decision last week that will influence millions of Americans and affect the political structure of the United Sp10s1ates. It decided not to adjust its 2000 head count to include an estimate on the number of people it couldn't find.

The bureau's rough guess is that 3.4 million people were not counted. Many, if not most of them are minorities. That figure compares with the official count of 281 million people.

Specifically, the Census Bureau recommended against using the science of so-called statistical sampling to adjust its raw count. This evolving technique of inferring an additional count from samples and spot surveys remains an imperfect method, and thus in dispute.

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Acting Census Bureau Director William Barron said the agency didn't have the time to reach a consensus among its experts on whether the adjusted figures would be more accurate than unadjusted ones.

Democrats are angry because they believe millions of dollars of federal funding won't be allocated to areas where minorities weren't counted. And the party will likely lose out when Census figures are used to reapportion congressional seats. For their part, Republicans oppose statistical sampling, citing the Constitution's mandate for "actual enumeration," but also fearing the party might lose up to 12 seats.

The nation deserves the most accurate population count. The bureau was right to remain prudent while experts try to improve their counting methods. It has improved its normal counting method to reduce the level of overcounting even as it has tried to perfect the sampling technique.

Keeping politics out of the Census Bureau is essential. That's why the bureau correctly avoided political pressure to adopt statistically sampling for now.

But in addition, it would be wrong for Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a political appointee, to make good on his promise to have the final say on the census figures. Like the Federal Reserve and the Labor Department's statistical agencies, the Census Bureau must be run by professionals, and its figures should be trusted.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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