- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

The Census Bureau yesterday reported it counted 281,421,906 persons residing in the United States last spring, numbers that signal a shift in population and political power to the South and West.

The new population figures for the nation an increase of 33 million since the 1990 count and the individual states were released at a carefully scripted press conference that provided a portrait of the nation.

In the decade since the last census, the U.S. population has grown by 13.2 percent. Census officials said that is a fast, unexpectedly high increase.

"America's population is the largest ever," Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta told the news conference. "Today we release the first numbers from the most complex census ever taken."

As Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said, the numbers in this first release of data show that, "Never have we been so diverse, never have we been so many and never have we been so carefully measured."

The new figures reveal it will be necessary to alter the number of representatives 18 states will send to the 108th Congress come 2003. The political ramifications of that juggling currently are being analyzed.

The population continued its century-long tilt toward the South and West as Texas replaced New York as the nation's second-largest state and the District of Columbia had the dubious honor of being the only place to lose population.

The South embraced 14,790,890 new residents and the West 10,411,850. The Northeast grew by 2,785,149 residents; the Midwest added 4,724,144.

New York now has 18,976,457 residents to the 20,851,820 residents of Texas. Florida ranks fourth with 15,982,378. Wyoming's 493,782 residents make it the least populated state.

The population tilt long ago established California as the nation's biggest state, and that fact still holds true. It gained 4,111,627 residents more than any other state for a total of 33,871,648.

Every state gained residents, but Nevada had the greatest percentage of growth. Its population increased 66 percent to 1,998,000. West Virginia had the smallest increase 0.8 percent. It has 1,808,344 residents now, and ranks as the 37th-largest state.

With a gain of 14.4 percent to 7,078,515 residents, Virginia ranks 12th. Maryland grew by 10.8 percent to 5,296,486 and ranks 19th, while the District population fell by 5.7 percent to 572,059.

The nation's founders indicated the primary function of the decennial census is to come up with revised population counts that Congress can use when assigning to states the number of seats and thus votes each will be given in the House of Representatives.

Congress is required to fairly apportion votes on the basis of population. First, it must assure that every state has at least one seat. Then it must add proportionately more seats to states with increased populations and subtract from those with decreased populations while keeping the total number of representatives at 435.

Congress imposed the 435 limit on House seats in 1911, and subsequently came up with a complex mathematical formula for doing so.

Based on the formula and as a result of the 2000 census, Arizona, Georgia, Florida and Texas each will each be allotted two more seats in the House. New York and Pennsylvania will lose two each.

California, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado each will gain one seat. Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan will be forced to relinquish a seat.

Mr. Prewitt explained that the numbers released yesterday are based solely on the 67 percent of residents who returned mailed census questionnaires plus the reports of census workers who personally queried householders from whom no return was received.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that only census figures garnered that way by "actual enumeration" may be used for reckoning apportionment in the House of Representatives.

Still, Mr. Prewitt stressed, the totals are "estimates." He explained:

"We try to get the numbers as close to the truth as we can. Every [statistical] exercise we do is aimed at that. But, if tradition holds, we will have missed some people and counted others twice."

That's why, Mr. Prewitt, Mr. Mineta and Commerce Undersecretary Robert Shapiro insisted the Census Bureau's planned analysis of its initial findings matter.

The analysis employs statistical sampling, a method of estimating census error by surveying a comparatively small, randomly selected group of residents, calculating the mistakes experienced in the smaller census survey and applying the results to the entire census.

When the analysis is complete in six to eight weeks and the margin of census error is figured, Census officials will report the number of persons it believes were missed and the number counted more than once. It then will issue a corrected Census 2000 figure.

Additionally, beginning in March, the bureau will begin releasing highly detailed data giving population counts down to the block level. Those reports will contain the population counts for racial and ethnic groups.

Following that, the bureau will release on a continuing basis detailed data on such things as housing, numbers of married and unmarried persons and the like. It is information the government uses in distributing billions of dollars in federal funds, and it forms the basis of information used by the nation's business community.

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