- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — With jobs and federal aid at stake, U.S. cities are lining up to contest their 2010 census counts as too low.

A decade ago, there were 1,200 challenges filed by cities, towns and counties. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is predicting a big jump in that number, due in part to tighter budgets that make local officials more sensitive to potential drop-offs in federal money for Medicaid and other programs.

Each year, nearly $450 billion in federal aid is distributed to states based on population, or roughly $1,500 per person.

Cities have two years to contest their counts under the Census Bureau’s appeals process, which began this month.

“Along with federal funds, there’s a psychological impact when a city loses population, because people and businesses want to be in a vibrant region where things are growing and happening,” Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, who chairs the U.S. mayors’ task force on the census, said in an interview.

“There will be a dramatic increase in the number of city challenges, I guarantee it,” he said.

Doubts about the government’s numbers are cropping up everywhere.

Real-estate agents in New York City want to know where the Census Bureau found vast stretches of empty housing that resulted in a tally that was 200,000 fewer people than expected. Miami officials are puzzled over a count that fell 30,000 below the bureau’s 2009 estimate, contending that immigrants and middle-class whites in gated downtown condominiums were missed. Houston added two new city council seats, even though the 2010 count showed it fell 549 short of the population required to do so.

California cities also are mulling challenges after state officials estimated the census had failed to count 1.25 million people there.

As of this week, 18 U.S. cities, towns or villages had filed appeals, with many others saying they planned to do so, helped by new computer mapping and other technology that makes it easier to identify problems. Based partly on city complaints, the Census Bureau already has identified coding errors involving more than 26,000 people in California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington state — mostly Navy ships that were allocated to the wrong areas.

“We encourage cities to challenge,” said Sharon Boyer, who is chief of the Census Bureau’s appeals division. But the kinds of challenges that are accepted are limited to narrow cases involving outdated boundary lines, people allocated to the wrong neighborhoods or other processing errors that can be fixed without collecting new data.

“Overall it’s an accurate census, and we stand by the census count,” Ms. Boyer said.

In recent decades, the peak for challenges was 6,600, or 17 percent of all U.S. jurisdictions, in 1990, when the census missed four million people, including 5 percent of all blacks and Hispanics.

In 2000, roughly 1,200 jurisdictions, or 3 percent, contested the count. The net change because of census challenges that year was just 2,700 people.

Apart from the challenges, analysts later determined the 2000 census had an overcount of 1.3 million people, due mostly to duplicate counts of more affluent whites with multiple residences. About 4.5 million people ultimately were missed, mostly blacks and Hispanics.

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