Statistical Sampling Decision to Cost Government 2 Billion

Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Census Bureau must calculate actual head counts in addition to supplements by statistical sampling procedures will cost U.S. taxpayers an additional $2 billion.

Census Bureau head Kenneth Prewitt noted that 2000 census figured gained through actual head counts will, like the 1990 census, be plagued with inaccuracies. “All the characteristics that make the American population hard to count — increased mobility, households with two parents working, people with limited English skill, suspicion of government, lack of engagement with institutions — are more present today than they were in 1990,” he explained. Despite new strategies to increase the survey’s effectiveness, Prewitt said that doesn’t expect to see “any marked improvement” from the 1990 census.

The issue of statistical sampling has caused a furor among members of Congress, given that areas where undercounting most often occurs tend to vote Democratic. Republican members of Congress have staunchly defended traditional counts, and have pledged to pay “whatever it takes,” to carry them out.


New York Times - February 24, 1999