Census Director Says Census Is on Its Way

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The Census Bureau has shifted its focus from urging people to return questionnaires and tracking down recalcitrant households to tabulating the statistical portrait of the United States that it produces once a decade, Director Kenneth Prewitt said yesterday.

Prewitt said 10 of the bureau's local offices closed last week and all of them will be closed by late October. Now statisticians are sifting through data to check their accuracy, and demographers are analyzing numbers to search for trends.

"The processing effort over the next several months really is going to take up trillions of calculations," Prewitt said. "We have prepared about 8.5 terabytes of capacity to process and tabulate the Census 2000. About two terabytes are for actual data; the remaining capacity is for all the file merging and quality checking that is required for an accurate census."

The first results will be released after the tabulations take place. Those results, which will reveal the actual head count of the nation's population, by law must be on President Clinton's desk before Dec. 31. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that those figures must be used to reapportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

The numbers also will a paint a clearer picture of the U.S. population. One of the bigger story lines is the nation's racial and ethnic makeup. Estimates released last week showed that growth in the country's minority population outpaced that of whites in the 1990s, especially Asians (up 43 percent) and Hispanics (up 38 percent). The white population grew 7 percent during the decade.

Census 2000 data are expected to back up those estimates with actual numbers for the first time in 10 years.

In March, the Census Bureau will release total population numbers classified by race, gender, age and ethnicity, down to block levels. These are the numbers that states will use for redistricting.

Population figures, adjusted by using a statistical method known as sampling, are scheduled for release by April 1. States have the option of using this sampled population count or the real numbers when redrawing congressional and state legislative boundaries.

Other data will be released in waves in the months and years following.

About 80 million, or 66 percent, of the country's 120 million households returned census forms, reversing a decades-long decline in participation. This is good news for direct marketers, who often use census information to fill in missing pieces of large consumer databases and for market research.

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