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City Council redistricting off the agenda

Looks like the earlier reports of City Council redistricting were premature. Apparently, there’s not a definitive answer to the question of whether or not Houston’s population now exceeds 2.1 million, which would trigger a requirement to redistrict and add two more seats.

[Mayor Bill] White thought the estimates might show the population grew to 2.1 million, triggering a City Charter provision that requires the extra single-member council districts.

But the American Community Survey, which officials say isn’t an accurate gauge for precise population totals, estimated about 1.94 million. And another census estimate, using different methods, recently showed the population only slightly over 2 million.

“We will act in good faith and compliance with the charter, but you have no official number showing population over 2.1 million,” White said. “I can’t pull a number out of the air.”

As I noted when I first blogged about this, the 2003 Census estimate of Houston’s population was just over 2 million. The official 2000 number was 1.95 million, so unless you think we’ve lost people in the last six years, I have to call into question that ACS figure.

[Former Councilman Carroll] Robinson said some estimates and forecasts have the city population at or approaching the 2.1 million benchmark.

The Texas State Data Center, for example, estimated Houston’s population was 2.05 million in January 2005, months before tens of thousands of hurricane evacuees – as many as 150,000, by some estimates – moved to the region.


State Demographer Steve Murdock, with the Texas State Data Center, said the American Community Survey data released this week wasn’t the proper type for redistricting.

He said the decennial U.S. census, which relies on a head count rather than statistical sampling, is the best source for that. He also said the latest data probably didn’t accurately reflect the city’s totals.

Each year, he said, the bureau also develops population estimates using administrative records on births, deaths and migration to gauge changes from the most recent official census. The latest of these, released in July, showed the population at 2,016,582.

That seems low to me, too. I realize now when I blogged this in December that I’d misunderstood the growth rate that the Census had cited. I thought they meant 2.9% annually, which would have easily put us over 2.1 million by now, but they really meant 2.9% cumulative from 2000 to 2003. If we assume that rate of growth from 2003 to 2006, applied to the 2003 estimated population, we get 2,067,971. Close, but no cigar, and at that rate we’d probably not top 2.1 million until late 2008 or early 2009.

That, of course, doesn’t take into account the influx of Katrina evacuees, for which the numbers tend to be pretty speculative. I do think it’s reasonable to claim that we’re at the 2.1 million mark, but as it takes a couple of assumptions to get there, I’m not sure that it’s sufficiently justified to start the redistricting machinery. I would not object to pressing forward, but I can certainly understand the case for waiting.

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One Comment

  1. Charles Hixon says:

    2.1 million….we get 2,067,971. Close, but no cigar…I can certainly understand the case for waiting.

    As of July there is no justifiable argument for waiting.

    If one reviews the mathematical rules for reporting significant digits and the rules for rounding, reported all over the internet, then we have a cigar here. If the knuckleheads want to review a specification on the subject they might refer to ASTM E 29-02 Practice for Using Significant Digits in Test Data to Determine Conformance with Specifications which is available at the public library.