Prewitt Says Census on Track, Despite Low Numbers

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Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt yesterday said the agency has received cooperation from 98 percent of the roughly 42 million households that did not return a Census 2000 form before mid-April.

These households were counted by one of the 460,000 census takers during its second phase, called nonresponse follow-up.

"That leaves less than 1 million of our housing units not accounted for in this operation," Prewitt said at a news conference in Washington. He also said this phase of the census will easily be completed by July 7, when it is scheduled to end. Nonresponse follow-up began April 27.

Direct marketers often use census information to fill in missing pieces of large consumer databases and for market research.

Despite the positive numbers, Prewitt said that, similar to all of the previous censuses, there is still an inherent undercount in Census 2000. He said the last 1 to 2 percent of the population will be virtually impossible to count.

"At the end, there is still a substantially large population of the country which is either resistant to participation or fearful of being counted," said Prewitt. He said roughly half of the 1990 undercount were children who were left off forms.

As a result, U.S. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley proposed yesterday that the Census Bureau decide whether to adjust figures to count traditionally undercounted segments of the population.

Daley said the agency must decide "whether to use modern statistical methods to produce a more accurate census and alleviate the unfairness in the census or … do nothing."

Under current law, statistical methods may not be used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, but modern statistical methods can be applied for all other uses of census data, such as redistricting, federal funding and market research.

While the Census Bureau did not say whether it would use statistical methods, Prewitt said it is feasible in a document released yesterday called "Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation: Statement on the Feasibility of Using Statistical Methods to Improve the Accuracy of Census 2000." He also said he would make a decision before the April 1, 2001, statutory deadline for transmitting these tabulations.
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