Cover image for Who counts? : the politics of census-taking in contemporary America
Who counts? : the politics of census-taking in contemporary America
Anderson, Margo J., 1945-
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Publication Information:
New York : Russell Sage Foundation, [1999]

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x, 319 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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HA179 .A53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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One of Choice Magazine's Outstanding Academic Books of 2000

For those interested in understanding the historical and scientific context of the census adjustment controversy, Who Counts? is absolutely essential reading. -- Science

Ever since the founding fathers authorized a national headcount as the means of apportioning seats in the federal legislature, the decennial census has been a political battleground. Political power, and more recently the allocation of federal resources, depend directly upon who is counted and who is left out. Who Counts? is the story of the lawsuits, congressional hearings, and bureaucratic intrigues surrounding the 1990 census. These controversies formed largely around a single vexing question: should the method of conducting the census be modified in order to rectify the demonstrated undercount of poor urban minorities? But they also stemmed from a more general debate about the methods required to count an ever more diverse and mobile population of over two hundred million. The responses to these questions repeatedly pitted the innovations of statisticians and demographers against objections that their attempts to alter traditional methods may be flawed and even unconstitutional.

Who Counts? offers a detailed review of the preparation, implementation, and aftermath of the last three censuses. It recounts the growing criticisms of innaccuracy and undercounting, and the work to develop new enumeration strategies. The party shifts that followed national elections played an increasingly important role in the politization of the census, as the Department of Commerce asserted growing authority over the scientific endeavors of the Census Bureau. At the same time, each decade saw more city and state governments and private groups bringing suit to challenge census methodology and results. Who Counts? tracks the legal course that began in 1988, when a coalition led by New York City first sued to institute new statistical procedures in response to an alleged undercount of urban inhabitants. The challenge of accurately classifying an increasingly mixed population further threatens the legitimacy of the census, and Who Counts? investigates the difficulties of gaining unambiguous measurements of race and ethnicity, and the proposal that the race question be eliminated in favor of ethnic origin. Who Counts? concludes with a discussion of the proposed census design for 2000, as well as the implications of population counts on the composition and size of Congress. This volume reveals in extraordinary detail the interplay of law, politics, and science that propel the ongoing census debate, a debate whose outcome will have a tremendous impact on the distribution of political power and economic resources among the nation's communities.

A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series

Author Notes

Margo J. Anderson is a professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Stephen E. Fienberg is Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science at Carnegie Mellon University

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This demanding but instructive study provides legal, political, and scientific background on why the current battle over use of statistical sampling in the year 2000 census has arisen and how possible decisions will play out. Anderson, a history and urban studies professor, and Fienberg, a statistics and social science professor, served on expert panels helping to plan for the 2000 census. They provide a brief history of the census and then address the issue of undercounted populations, particularly in the 1970 and 1980 censuses. They cover the lengthy 1980 litigation in which New York and other historically undercounted jurisdictions sought a more complete count, as well as controversy over which racial classifications the 2000 census should use. A chapter on dual-systems estimation and other statistical approaches demands some mathematical understanding. The book includes a brief discussion of the Supreme Court's 1999 decision that sampling cannot be used for reapportionment purposes but can, perhaps, be used to meet other census objectives. --Mary Carroll

Choice Review

Anderson (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) and Fienberg (statistics, Carnegie Mellon Univ.) combine their disciplinary expertise to depict the bureaucratically complex and highly politicized process of taking a census to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and to identify populations qualified for receipt of federal funds. The authors review for the past three censuses the tasks of planning the census, its administration, and efforts to "accurately" count the population. They also analyze the strategies: the traditional techniques of comparison of cohort births with enumerated populations for selected subgroups, and postenumeration sampling techniques--the smoothing of sampling errors, "undercount." They assess the decision to use enumeration counts versus statistically adjusted values in the final report and in the calculation of funding formulas against the interplay of Constitutional requirements, legal directives and constraints, and shifting political policies with turnover in administrations. Attention to detail, trenchant analysis, and crisp, lucid prose capture the reader's attention. A must for any library serving those interested in politics, history, or demography. Excellent references. All levels. D.W. Hastings; University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Chapter 1 Prologuep. 1
Chapter 2 The History of the U.S. Census and the Undercountp. 11
Chapter 3 The Undercount and the 1970 and 1980 Censusesp. 35
Chapter 4 Dual-Systems Estimation and Other Methods for Undercount Correctionp. 54
Chapter 5 New for 1990: Implementing the New Methods in a Census Contextp. 77
Chapter 6 Counting the Population in 1990p. 100
Chapter 7 Out of the Limelight and into the Courtroomp. 130
Chapter 8 The Measurement of Race and Ethnicity and the Census Undercount: A Controversy That Wasn'tp. 167
Chapter 9 Toward Census 2000p. 191
Chapter 10 The Saga Continuesp. 214
Appendixesp. 233
Notesp. 291
Referencesp. 297
About the Authorsp. 307
Indexp. 309