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Does the US Census Undercount?


As the US gears up for the next census in 2010, questions continue to linger over the accuracy of the last census conducted in 2000. In particular, several cities, including Louisville, Kentucky and Toledo, Ohio think their populations have been underreported by the government. At stake are funding transfers between national, state and local governments.

Certain segments of the population tend to be chronically underreported in census findings. This includes the poor, the transient and illegal immigrants. These groups are difficult to track down, and often have a vested interest in not being reported in official records even though (technically) they are suppose to be included in all official government censuses.

As a result, districts that have a large proportion of poor or transient or illegal immigrants tend to have an underreported population. This, in turn, affects local government's ability to provide services to the poor, the transient or illegal immigrants.

The next census in 2010 will be the first census post 9-11. Some observers have speculated the amount of underreporting may increase in the 2010 census due to people’s privacy concerns. Certain groups wonder if the government may use the results of the census to find and potentially deport individuals the government views as undesirable.

Regardless, it is worth noting for genealogists that the chronic underreporting of the poor, the transient and illegal immigrants is not a new issue. It has existed in every census the government has ever conducted. This is definitely something worth thinking about when you can’t find your ancestors in old census records, particularly if you suspect they may have been part of an underreported category.

Incidentally, the US Census Bureau maintains an excellent web site that keeps track of census dates for all the countries and areas of the world from 1945 to 2014. It can be accessed here.

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