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Census 2000: Seeking An Accurate Picture Of America

March 6, 2000 -- At the start of a new decade, it’s 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.

The first is the Census Bureau’s 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.

Already 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.

Regardless 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.

The 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 racial identity.

"It’s 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."

For interviews or background on census issues, Martin may be reached at (804) 982-5581.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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