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CENSUS SENSES IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE IN METHODS

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The Census Bureau plans to revamp the way it gathers information, following criticism of the 1990 national headcount as the least accurate in decades, The New York Times reported Monday.

"These would be tremendous changes from the way we are doing things now," Robert D. Tortora, who is in charge of redesigning the census, told the Times.In what may be its most controversial proposal, the bureau plans to extrapolate its final tally for the year 2000 from its actual counting, determining statistically how many people were counted and how many were missed.

Officials also are considering scrapping the long form the bureau has used once every decade to gather broad demographic data. Instead, the bureau plans extensive monthly surveys conducted over an entire decade, the paper said.

Hoping to get a better response, the government is considering providing forms at post offices and other locations and allowing people to respond by telephone.

The proposals, driven by rising costs and the country's increasing diversity, have not been locked in, and Congress could decide to limit changes.

Census officials admit the 1990 count missed urban and rural residents and minorities in disproportionate numbers. Democrats and cities sued the Bush administration, arguing the undercount cost them federal aid and hurt them in the redrawing of legislative districts.

The 1990 census cost $2.6 billion, double the cost of the 1980 census. The return rate was a record-low 65 percent in 1990.