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Boro population passes 2 million in Census count

The population of Queens has climbed to more than 2 million — a growth unmatched by the other four boroughs — buoyed in large measure by Asian and Hispanic immigrants who have recently arrived and have settled in the borough, the U.S. Census figures released last week show.

Overall, the number of people living in New York state rose to nearly 19 million, a 5.5 percent increase since the 1990 Census. The city, to a large degree, spurred this growth, as its population increased by 9.4 percent to 8,008,278, a record high for the city since the census was established, the figures show. At the same time, many of the upstate counties have reported declines in their populations, according to the figures.

Among the five boroughs, Queens had the largest overall growth, up more than 270,000, or 14.2 percent, since 1990, the figures show. That brought the borough’s population to 2,229,379, the first time in the history of the census that Queens’ population edged past the 2 million mark.

The results of the decennial head count provide a cross-section of both the city’s and state’s demographic topography, as well as a more refined look at tracts of land only a few square blocks in area. The government uses these figures to determine both the amount of federal funding to be allotted to states, cities and counties, and the number of representatives to be sent to the House of Representatives and the state Legislature.

New York state stands to gain two seats in the state Assembly and one in the Senate, but it is expected to lose two congressional slots. The robust gains in the city’s population could prevent the elimination of a downstate congressional seat, a decision that ultimately rests with the state Legislature.

The census figures are broken down by race and ethnicity, not by country of origin, making it unclear exactly where the immigrants come from. Further, the method by which the census is conducted — going door to door and counting heads — has been criticized by some elected officials, who say that it contributes to an undercount because minorities, the poor and children are invariably missed.

Over the last 10 years, much of the borough’s growth has occurred in western Queens, especially in such neighborhoods as Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona, according to the figures.

Roughly 23 percent of the Hispanic population now lives in those communities, a cluster of about three square miles just south of LaGuardia Airport, the Census figures show. This western portion of Queens is the most populous, with nearly 1,154,607 people, or half the borough’s population, living there.

In northern Queens, a steady stream of Asians has continued to flow into Flushing and Bayside, accounting now for an even more substantial portion of those communities’ population. Bellerose, a community southeast of Bayside that straddles the Nassau-Queens border, has also witnessed a surge in its Asian population, particularly among Southeast Asians.

On the whole, nearly 30 percent of northern Queens’s population, and nearly 18 percent of borough residents, is Asian, the figures show. In the city, nearly one in 10 New Yorkers is Asian.

Some 62 percent of the borough’s black population lives in southern Queens, a section delineated by the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, the Census found. There were about 390,000 people living in this part of the borough and roughly 277,000, or 70 percent, were black, according to the figures.

Precisely how accurate these census results are has been a bone of contention among various elected officials and special-interest groups. The city of New York, in general, and Queens, in particular, have been undercounted in years past. In 1990, for instance, about 48,000 minorities — particularly blacks, Hispanics and Asians — were missed, the Census said.

Though undercount numbers for the city and each of the boroughs have yet to be released, the Census Bureau estimated that 3.3 million people nationwide were not counted in 2000.

A number of advocacy groups set up workshops in Queens communities with extensive immigrant populations to encourage members to respond to the census. But fewer than half of all households in the borough returned their forms.

As a result, a group of elected officials and advocacy groups have called on the Census Bureau to incorporate statistical sampling into the 2000 Census, a move that they say would paint a more accurate demographic picture, since both federal funding and legislative representation is given out proportionate to a city’s or state’s population.

“Queens particularly has a tremendous amount at stake,” said Glenn Magpantay, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights organization, in a telephone interview Monday. “We did outreach work in Flushing and Elmhurst, but also Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. We documented many problems — people who could not get counted, people who could not get forms.”

Earlier this month, several Queens elected officials as well as others in the city had joined a lawsuit filed by the city of Los Angeles, seeking to compel the secretary of commerce to use statistical models in the 2000 census, which the officials say would compensate for the undercount.

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

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