Boro pols join lawsuit to adjust Census results

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Three Queens elected officials and the Bronx borough president have joined a lawsuit filed in January by the city of Los Angeles that seeks to force the secretary of commerce to incorporate statistical sampling into the 2000 Census.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 3.3 million people throughout the country, most of whom are minorities, were not counted in the 2000 Census. And in Queens, fewer than half of the households had returned their census forms, a fact that the elected officials say underscores the need to use statistical methods that estimate population in the decennial headcount.

The elected officials could not say, however, how many of the uncounted were from New York City or, in particular, from Queens, the nation’s most ethnically diverse county that has attracted immigrants from around the world. But in the 1990 Census, some 48,000 minorities — particularly blacks, Hispanics and Asians — from Queens were missed in the headcount, which is taken every 10 years.

Queens’ response rate to the 2000 Census was lower than the citywide average.

“By taking this decision out of the hands of professionals, the Bush administration has politicized the census count,” City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) told a news conference at City Hall Friday. “This is a decision that could mean a loss of millions of federal dollars for the city of New York.”

Jake Lynn, a spokesman for Vallone, said the speaker planned to introduce a resolution to the City Council Wednesday to give the 51-member legislative body an opportunity to endorse the suit under a unified voice.

The Census, which is conducted every 10 years, is used not only to determine the amount of federal funding cities and states receive but also to adjust the number of representatives that a state sends to the legislature and the House of Representatives. Late last year, population estimates for each of the 50 states were released by the bureau, and more refined data for New York was expected to be issued this week.

But the elected officials say the method by which the bureau conducts the Census is outmoded. As has been the case since 1850, the first time the Census was taken, Census workers have fanned out across the United States, physically counting the number of members residing in a household. But the results, the officials say, tend to be more skewed in urban areas, where minorities, the poor and children are more prevalent, than in suburban ones.

The use of statistical sampling, they say, would paint a more accurate portrait of a city’s demography. To that end, Los Angeles filed a lawsuit in federal court in January against Commerce Secretary Donald Evans to force the U.S. Census Bureau to incorporate the sampling into the 2000 Census. Through statistical models, the data would take into account individuals who may have been missed by workers who visited their homes or failed to respond.

Besides Vallone, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer said they planned to join the suit.

A Census undercount in New York City would affect both its representation in government and the federal funding it receives. According to preliminary estimates, the state population of New York has risen to more than 18 million, a 4 percent increase since 1990. Queens, however, has had only a 1 percent increase in its population, bringing it to a little more than 2 million, the results show.

Nonetheless, New York will lose two congressional seats in next year’s elections, the result of stout increases in the populations of states elsewhere. Exactly which seats will be dissolved, though, is a matter to be decided by the state legislature.

At the news conference Friday, City Councilman Herb Berman (D-Brooklyn), who is also the chairman of the Council’s finance committee, said $363 million in city aid could be threatened because of the undercount. Each year, based on the Census, some $185 billion in federal aid is apportioned to states nationwide.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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