Cities’ Lawsuit Against Census Said Likely

March 21, 1990 2 min read

Washington--New guidelines for adjusting data in the upcoming 1990 Census probably will lead urban officials to reopen their suit alleging that the Census Bureau undercounts the inner-city poor and minority populations, big-city leaders said last week.

Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York, calling the rules issued here last week by the Commerce Department “biased and unconstitutional,” said the plaintiffs “are left with little choice but to seek further judicial relief in our pending case.”

New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, together with the states of New York and California, filed suit against the department in 1988, asserting that the Census Bureau’s undercounting of inner-city residents had resulted in the loss of political power and millions of dollars in federal aid--including aid to schools. The census count often is used in funding formulas for federal programs such as Chapter 1.

The suit was settled last July when the department agreed to appoint a panel of experts to determine whether such adjustments were warranted. The eight rules announced last week resulted from the settlement. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1989.)

Essentially, the new rules establish that any adjustments made to the data must be statistically significant at the national, state, and local levels.

Some urban officials claimed the new rules would not compensate for the undercounting they alleged in their suit.

Lance Simmens, assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the new rules “are merely a reshuffled deck” of 12 draft guidelines released for public comment last December. Most city officials criticized those rules as well.

Undersecretary of Commerce Mi8chael R. Darby defended the guidelines, saying they were “designed to ensure that the 1990 Census is the most accurate population count that can be practically produced.”

In short, the rules state that:

No statistical or inferential procedure may be used as a substitute for the census.

Any adjustments must be “consistent and complete” across all levels: national, state, local, and individual census block. This would require a high degree of detail.

The decision whether to allow an adjustment should take into account the “potential disruption” of states’ redistricting processes.

No adjustments will be made if they cannot be completed by July 15, 1991, when the Census Bureau is required to publish its figures.

Any proposed adjustment must be shown to result in a more accurate count.--m.n.

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 1990 edition of Education Week as Cities’ Lawsuit Against Census Said Likely