Census Bureau: We May Have Overcounted in 2000

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After crunching more numbers, the Census Bureau now says it overcounted by 1.3 million people in 2000 instead of missing more than 3 million.

The findings released Wednesday show an overcount of whites, Asians, American Indians on reservations and young children, while many blacks and Hispanics were missed during the once-a-decade count.

The estimate will not affect the government's official population count of 281.4 million in 2000, Census Bureau Director C. Louis Kincannon said. Neither will it affect how the federal government distributes at least $185 billion to the states for social services and programs such as Medicare. Those distributions are based on state population breakdowns.

Nevertheless, the latest figures represented the most accurate estimate of how the government did in counting residents three years ago, Kincannon said.

How well the Census Bureau counts the population -- and what to do about errors that are uncovered -- has been a contentious issue. Congressional Democrats and civil rights leaders maintain the bureau has not done adequate work to ensure minorities are counted fully.

Critics say the bureau should have used a complicated statistical method called "sampling" to make up for historic undercounts of minorities. Opponents of that method, mainly Republicans, have said sampling actually inserts more error into a census.

The government takes a census each decade to reallocate the 435 House seats among the states based on population shifts. The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that only the raw, unadjusted count could be used for that purpose.

Federal regulations required the bureau to decide by March 2001 whether to release adjusted data to redraw political district boundaries. The agency recommended against it.

The bureau also announced in October 2001 that it would only release raw data to plug into formulas for federal funds to the states, and to make population estimates until the next census in 2010. Agency officials said then they would study the issue more.

Last year, two Democratic state senators from Oregon successfully sued the Census Bureau to release state-by-state figures of any undercount or overcount. The government released the data in December, based on the old national net undercount of over 3 million.

The findings announced Wednesday came from the additional research. Bureau officials said they found millions more people who were counted twice, and used complicated statistical formulas to estimate how many people were missed.

By race and ethnic groups, the bureau said non-Hispanic blacks had a net undercount of 1.8 percent, or about 611,000 people. Hispanics were undercounted by 0.7 percent, or about 250,000 people.

The bureau said the following groups also had undercounts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders by 2.1 percent and American Indians or Alaska Natives living off reservation by less than 1 percent.

Non-Hispanic whites were overcounted by 1.1 percent, or about 2.5 million. Non-Hispanic Asians and American Indians living on reservations were overcounted by less than 1 percent.