Cities want a better head count

Scott Jagow Jun 28, 2007

Cities want a better head count

Scott Jagow Jun 28, 2007


Scott Jagow: Today, the Census Bureau gave us the latest population figures for cities. Philadelphia has dropped out of the top five. It was replaced by Phoenix.

Obviously a sign of the migration from north and east to south and west.But a lot of cities think they got cheated. They’re planning to challenge the Census Bureau on its math.

Joining us is John Talmadge. He’s the CEO of a group called Social Compact. It tries to attract business to inner cities. He’s in Miami right now talking with the mayor about challenging the Census Bureau. John, what’s wrong with the count?

John Talmadge The Census is the best measure we have to give you a national count. But what happens in underserved communities, there are issues of how they walk, how they select the houses, whether the housing sheets are up to date. People have a natural . . . sometimes have a natural fear of reporting their own information accurately to the Census Bureau. There are . . . the Census, because it’s a once every 10-year count, they aren’t able to interject new information that may come to light in the intervening years. So the 2000 number’s incorrect, then what gets built, what gets projected every year after that until the next Census will also be incorrect.

Jagow: Well, why does it matter if a city ranks fifth or sixth in population?

Talmadge: Well, I’m not sure that the ranking itself matters, but what does matter is that, according to the Brookings Institute, 80 percent of all private investment in the United States is based off, or uses the census or census-derived information, to make some of their decisions from. If you’re a grocery store operator, you want to understand, you need to understand how many people live in that community, what is their discretionary income, how far will they have to travel to get to the grocery store. And so, if you were to simply pull a census number, a 2000 census number for Detroit, you might believe that there’s, you know, 30 [thousand], 40,000 people fewer in a community than actually live in that community today.

Jagow: Have cities won these challenges?

Talmadge: Yeah, there were 41 successful census challenges last year. And I really commend the cities for conducting them. St. Louis has been a . . . really has championed the census challenge for years. I think they’ve challenged successfully their census eight years in a row. New York has done, has had successful challenges. Mayor Mallory in Cincinnati is really beginning to take a national leadership role on organizing cities to conduct challenges from coast to coast.

Jagow: But what happens when a city wins the challenge? Does the Census Bureau say, “Hey, we were wrong, here’s a new list”?

Talmadge: The census does not take . . . add the number to the national population. What the census does is to take the numbers that were added back to individual, successful challenges from metropolitan areas that don’t conduct challenges. In 2006 California had 100,000 people removed from their roles as a consequence of not having conducted their own census challenges in different urban areas.

Jagow: So why doesn’t everybody challenge the numbers, if they might lose population because somebody challenged?

Talmadge: Well, I think that there is a drum beat. I think in 2001 there was two challenges, and that number has steadily increased till we got to the 41 last year. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has taken a very close look at this and how can they assist cities with challenges. They have been a champion of questioning the methodology for decades . . .

Jagow: It sounds kind of like a game show. They should have like a penalty if you challenge and are wrong, or in football where you lose a time-out.

Talmadge: You know, you’re right. But what we all are striving for is to build the baseline so when we get to the 2010 numbers, that there’s a better understanding of what the urban population of the United States ought to be.

Jagow: All right, John Talmadge, the CEO of Social Compact. Thanks for joining us.

Talmadge: Thanks Scott, I appreciate it.

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