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City to ask Census for a do-over

Very interesting.

The city of Houston will ask the U.S. Census Bureau to change its official count, raising questions about whether some apartment complexes or even entire neighborhoods were missed.

Houston’s population is 2,099,451, according to Census data released last week. That’s more than 100,000 fewer people than earlier estimates, and slightly below the 2.1 million that triggers an expansion of City Council to 16 members.

The expansion is still on, as city planners and independent researchers try to determine what went wrong.

“I think we’re all very disappointed in the Census Bureau’s ability to actually count the immigrant populations, and (other) hard-to-count populations,” said Jerry Wood, a consultant hired to review census results for the city. “The bureau had a great story about how they were going to do a better job this time, but I think the evidence is pretty clear that it didn’t work.”

Census maps show a huge section of east Houston — most of the area inside Loop 610, east of Interstate 45 – lost population, as did sections of southwest and northeast Houston.

Those areas are predominantly Latino and African-American, populations that historically are most likely to be missed by the census.

Some census tracts reported only small losses, but the widespread area that was affected caught people by surprise.

“That almost doesn’t seem right,” said Jeff Taebel, director of community and environmental planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “That strikes me as odd.”

In fact, the 2006 population estimate for Houston pegged it at 2,144,491 residents, so you can see why the official 2010 figure was so surprising. That represented 8.8% growth from the 2000 Census total of 1,953,631, and at that same rate over ten years would have led to a 2010 figure of 2,248,488. I’d guess that the growth rate would have slowed somewhat over the last four years, on the assumption that the 2006 total included a spike resulting from Hurricane Katrina evacuees, but even if you assume a rate half as large from 2006 to 2010 as you had from 2000 to 2006, you still top 2.2 million residents. Which is probably what the earlier estimates were based on.

Obviously, this matters for City Council redistricting, which as Greg notes should and will proceed. It also matters for legislative redistricting, both because Harris County is slightly under the total needed to maintain 25 seats, and because an awful lot of legislators need to add population to their districts, a task that will be easier to do if there’s more of it to spread around. Revising the count upwards will also temper somewhat the necessary westward shift of the legislative districts, since so much of the “missing” population is east of I-45. To put it in Bidenesque terms, this is a big effing deal. Keep an eye on it. A video report from KTRK can be seen here.

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  1. Mainstream says:

    It is one thing to correct geographic boundary errors which resulted in miscounting some city residents as being outside the city limits. So long as anyone included by mistake is similarly then excluded from the city count.

    An adjustment for missed persons would be a very different matter, and could be politically manipulated. Unless the census missed a whole area altogether, I would be concerned about selective recounting. Even with its flaws, the census data is likely more nonpartisan than our city officials and consultants.

  2. I hear what you’re saying, but the disparity between what the Census estimated in 2006 and what they counted in 2010 is jarring, to say the least. Something, somewhere, went very wrong, and I would like to get a better understanding of what it was.

  3. Brad M. says:

    Conspiracy Theory: Local Republicans listened to whacko Rep. Michelle Bachmann – MN in numbers and avoided the census.

  4. JJMB says:

    The Mayor has said several times that the Census needs to add in residents of the Limited Purpose Annexation areas, who were excluded (I gather that was intentional by the Census Bureau). Does that seem right? Those people do not get to vote in City elections and they don’t pay property taxes, only sales taxes when buying in those areas.

  5. […] rate was also 67%, which was also up from 64% in 2000. Houston’s population total is off by at least 100,000 if you project from earlier estimates, but on a percentage basis San Marcos’ count is much […]