Coalition Backs Census Sampling

Backed by groups ranging from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to minority and civil rights organizations, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D- Calif., today urged House members not to interfere in the Census Bureau's plan to use statistical sampling in the 2000 census.

GOP opposition to sampling is a "slap in the face of accuracy and completeness," Becerra said, adding, "Politics should be left out of the process."

The Senate's fiscal 1997 supplemental appropriations bill includes a provision that prevents the Census Bureau from committing funds after this year to conduct sampling in 2000. Becerra warned that an effort may be made to include similar language in the House supplemental bill. The House Rules Committee was set to take up the bill Tuesday afternoon.

Some proponents of sampling, including many congressional Democrats, charge Republicans are opposed to the procedure because sampling is expected to improve the agency's ability to accurately count the poor and minorities who traditionally vote Democratic. Because the census numbers will determine the reapportionment of House seats, Democrats contend Republicans would lose out if higher minority populations were discovered.

When large undercounts were discovered in the 1990 census, Congress directed the National Research Council to come up with a way to address the issue in time for the 2000 census. The NRC, with the support of the professional statistical community, the GAO and the Commerce Department inspector general, recommended sampling for the roughly 10 percent of the population that does not fill out census forms or respond to followup interviews by census workers.

Statisticians say sampling already is used in the census count because only a certain percentage of households receive the so-called long form. Proponents also say sampling is highly accurate and much more cost-effective than an actual head count.

But in a letter Wednesday to Census Bureau Director Martha Farnsworth Riche, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.,House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., argued against sampling, saying, "We cannot rely on statistical schemes that compromise accuracy for the sake of the economy."

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