2000: Seeking An Accurate Picture Of America
6, 2000 -- At the start of a new decade, its
census time again. Most U.S. households will receive a simple questionnaire
in the mail about a week before Census Day, April 1. But two important
innovations, both intended to paint a more accurate picture of the
country, will be much debated and likely cause confusion in coming
months, observes University of Virginia demographer Julia Martin.
first is the Census Bureaus plan to publish two sets of figures
for the first time in the history of the census, says Martin, director
of demographics research for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public
Service. One set would be the numbers actually counted door-to-door
and in the mailed responses. The other set will be an adjusted version
to account for people who were missed.
the subject of legislative wrangling in Virginia and elsewhere over
which figures to use in the redrawing of political boundary lines,
the issue is sure to wind up in court, predicts Martin. Republicans
fear the statistical adjustment would benefit Democrats, because
many of those missed in the actual count are likely to be poorer
people, minorities or immigrants who, it is generally believed,
would tend to vote Democratic.
of that debate, "the adjustment needs to be done," says
Martin, agreeing with other statisticians that it will give the
truest picture of the population. Census accuracy is important not
just for its own sake but because decision-makers use the figures
in deciding on an array of services and community needs, she says.
second issue is that the census form itself will offer a variety
of boxes that citizens can check to describe their race. Americans
can choose more than one race or ancestry if they wish. Some see
it as a way to mirror the increasingly multiracial picture of the
country. But other groups, including the NAACP and the Asian American
Legal Defense Fund, have urged checking one box only, with the reasoning
that political strength and enforcement of equal rights laws involve
an important and confusing issue," says Martin. "Race
has always been self-identified. Now more than ever it will be how
you yourself feel. But perhaps more importantly, changing the way
race is indicated on the census means that it will be very difficult
to compare the 2000 figures with those for decades before in order
to see how our various racial groups have changed."
interviews or background on census issues, Martin may be reached
at (804) 982-5581.
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856