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Who Counts?

Who Counts?: The Politics of Census-Taking in Contemporary America

Margo J. Anderson
Stephen E. Fienberg
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Who Counts?
    Book Description:

    One ofChoiceMagazine's Outstanding Academic Books of 2000

    For those interested in understanding the historical and scientific context of the census adjustment controversy,Who Counts?is absolutely essential reading. -Science

    Ever since the founding fathers authorized a national headcount as the means of apportioning seats in the federal legislature, the decennial census has been a political battleground. Political power, and more recently the allocation of federal resources, depend directly upon who is counted and who is left out.Who Counts?is the story of the lawsuits, congressional hearings, and bureaucratic intrigues surrounding the 1990 census. These controversies formed largely around a single vexing question: should the method of conducting the census be modified in order to rectify the demonstrated undercount of poor urban minorities? But they also stemmed from a more general debate about the methods required to count an ever more diverse and mobile population of over two hundred million. The responses to these questions repeatedly pitted the innovations of statisticians and demographers against objections that their attempts to alter traditional methods may be flawed and even unconstitutional.

    Who Counts?offers a detailed review of the preparation, implementation, and aftermath of the last three censuses. It recounts the growing criticisms of innaccuracy and undercounting, and the work to develop new enumeration strategies. The party shifts that followed national elections played an increasingly important role in the politization of the census, as the Department of Commerce asserted growing authority over the scientific endeavors of the Census Bureau. At the same time, each decade saw more city and state governments and private groups bringing suit to challenge census methodology and results.Who Counts?tracks the legal course that began in 1988, when a coalition led by New York City first sued to institute new statistical procedures in response to an alleged undercount of urban inhabitants. The challenge of accurately classifying an increasingly mixed population further threatens the legitimacy of the census, andWho Counts?investigates the difficulties of gaining unambiguous measurements of race and ethnicity, and the proposal that the race question be eliminated in favor of ethnic origin.Who Counts?concludes with a discussion of the proposed census design for 2000, as well as the implications of population counts on the composition and size of Congress. This volume reveals in extraordinary detail the interplay of law, politics, and science that propel the ongoing census debate, a debate whose outcome will have a tremendous impact on the distribution of political power and economic resources among the nation's communities.

    A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-005-9
    Subjects: Population Studies, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Prologue
    (pp. 1-10)

    Every ten years, the federal government, through the auspices of the United States Bureau of the Census, counts the American population and reports the results to Congress. Congress, state legislatures, and local representative bodies then use the census results to undertake the decennial process of reapportioning themselves in light of population growth and change. New census numbers also trigger changes in legislative formulas that allocate tax revenue among the various levels of government through revenue-sharing and grant-in-aid systems. Government policy makers, scholars, the media, and the private sector also eagerly await the census results each decade and use the information...

  5. Chapter 2 The History of the U.S. Census and the Undercount
    (pp. 11-34)

    In the summer of 1787, slightly more than a decade after the thirteen colonies had declared their independence from Great Britain, several dozen men met in Philadelphia to try to improve the existing American national government structure. War had ended in 1783, and the infant nation had returned to peace. Yet severe political and economic problems plagued the country. The Articles of Confederation, finally ratified in 1781 as the framework for the national government, had not been functioning well for a number of years. By the late 1780s, the states were willing to send delegates to discuss amendments. There were...

  6. Chapter 3 The Undercount and the 1970 and 1980 Censuses
    (pp. 35-53)

    By the time census officials, policy makers, and Congress began to understand the political implications of the census undercount, planning for the 1970 census was well under way. These plans included ambitious technical improvements in the 1970 count that would allow the bureau to provide more data more quickly and at the same or lesser cost than in previous censuses. Officials could envision such an agenda because they could point to an impressive list of technical improvements in census taking over the previous generation. They had extended the sampling innovations begun in 1940 in the 1950 and 1960 counts. They...

  7. Chapter 4 Dual-Systems Estimation and Other Methods for Undercount Correction
    (pp. 54-76)

    Probably every human society that ever existed has had at least one methodology of counting. Counting a set of organisms, objects, people, or things is a deceptively simple project. Children learn their numbers and count their fingers and toes, arms and legs, eyes and ears, and modem societies have a penchant for counting almost everything—from votes to people to widgets. At least since the eighteenth century, Americans have been, as Pat Cline Cohen has noted, a “calculating people” (Cohen 1982). Summing, reckoning, and averaging are time-honored techniques for understanding and managing physical and social phenomena.

    But when there are...

  8. Chapter 5 New for 1990: Implementing the New Methods in a Census Context
    (pp. 77-99)

    From the perspective of the general public, ten years is an awfully long time between population counts. During the decade, census officials—it would seem—would have time to perform other surveys and statistical work, as they of course do. Practically, though, the modern Census Bureau is always working on at least two censuses at once, the most recent one and the one coming up. What changes over the decade is the bureau’s emphasis on the different parts of the process—planning, implementation, evaluation, and publication. Hence, as in previous censuses, planning for the 1990 census began in the early...

  9. Chapter 6 Counting the Population in 1990
    (pp. 100-129)

    April 1, 1990, was the official date for taking the 1990 census, the day all American households theoretically would fill out and return their census forms for the decade. To guarantee that Americans would be able to fill out their forms as planned, census officials had to guarantee that more than ninety million American households received a census form or a visit from an enumerator on April 1—or as close to that date as possible. And they had to plan to retrieve all the forms; check and correct them for mistakes, omissions, and duplications; tabulate the responses on the...

  10. Chapter 7 Out of the Limelight and into the Courtroom
    (pp. 130-166)

    Interest on the part of the general public in the intricacies of the census-taking process and even the decennial results tends to fade rather quickly after the census year. Among census stakeholders, interest remained high through the July 15, 1991, Commerce Department decision, because a decision to adjust would have led to revisions of all the data that were pouring out of the Census Bureau. With that possibility ended, most users returned to the data at hand, and the 1990 controversies began to pass into a haze of memory. For officials at the bureau, however, and the stakeholders in the...

  11. Chapter 8 The Measurement of Race and Ethnicity and the Census Undercount: A Controversy That Wasn’t
    (pp. 167-190)

    To this point we have not examined the classification of race and Hispanic origin in the census. The figures in table 6.2, for example, derive from the method of demographic analysis, which we described in chapters 2 and 4, where the the census results, grouped by age, race, and sex, are compared with a reconstruction, using information from a variety of sources including vital registration data. In demographic analysis, the classification of U.S. residents by race is taken as a given.¹ In many ways, this is how the information was treated in the 1990 postenumeration survey as well, especially in...

  12. Chapter 9 Toward Census 2000
    (pp. 191-213)

    The reader will have already observed (from chapters 3 and 5) that the modern Census Bureau works on at least two censuses at once: the previous one and the next one.¹ Hence, the procedures and policies for the upcoming census are in development as the publication and analysis of the previous one are still ongoing. Thus one must look to the early 1990s for the beginning of the planning for the 2000 census. Census 2000 planning began during the Bush administration, during Barbara Everitt Bryant’s tenure as census director and Robert Mosbacher’s tenure as commerce secretary. At the July 15,...

  13. Chapter 10 The Saga Continues
    (pp. 214-232)

    Our story of the politics of census taking in contemporary America does not have an end. In fact, we have had some difficulty in completing this account because dramatic events continue to occur. In January 1998, for example, Census Director Martha Farnsworth Riche resigned, and James Holmes, Atlanta regional director of the Census Bureau, was appointed acting director. The Clinton administration nominated Kenneth Prewitt, a political scientist and most recently the president of the Social Science Research Council, for the director’s position. Prewitt received Senate confirmation and took office in late 1998.

    Appointments to the Census Monitoring Board were made...

  14. Appendix A Some Information on Sources of Census Error
    (pp. 233-236)
  15. Appendix B Judge Joseph M. McLaughlin’s July 17, 1989, Stipulation and Agreement
    (pp. 237-240)
  16. Appendix C The 1989 Preliminary Guidelines
    (pp. 241-249)
  17. Appendix D The 1990 Final Guidelines
    (pp. 250-258)
  18. Appendix E Bureau of the Census Coverage Evaluation Reports, 1990 Census
    (pp. 259-261)
  19. Appendix F Statement of Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher on Adjustment of the 1990 Census
    (pp. 262-268)
  20. Appendix G Membership in House of Representatives by Region and State, 1790 to 1990
    (pp. 269-273)
  21. Appendix H Office of Management and Budget Statistical Policy Directive 15 Revisions to Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity
    (pp. 274-279)
  22. Appendix I Committee Report: U.S. House of Representatives 105-405
    (pp. 280-290)
  23. Appendix J The Administration of Census 2000, from 1999 to 2000
    (pp. 291-304)
  24. Appendix K Apportionment
    (pp. 305-324)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 325-332)
  26. References
    (pp. 333-344)
  27. About the Authors
    (pp. 345-346)
  28. Index
    (pp. 347-357)