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False Facts About Census 2000

by Andy A Beveridge, Apr 01, 2001
 

 

There were three things that New Yorkers learned about themselves from the first data to come out of the 2000 Census:

  1. New York City, now eight million, grew rapidly during the 1990s.
  2. New York City is now the center of the region's growth
  3. Five percent of all New York City residents claimed to be multi-racial.

None of these are accurate.

1. NEW YORK CITY'S SLOW GROWTH

New York City experienced modest growth. New Yorkers were simply counted better in 2000 than they had been in 1990. The 1990 Census officially recorded New York City's population at 7.3 million; now it is 8.0 million. The difference is 686,000 or 9.4 percent. Growth is only one reason for the higher numbers, and it may not be the most important. Everyone acknowledges that the last census undercounted the city. Officially, the adjustment would have been about 245,000. This time the adjustment would be somewhat lower. However, the adjustment procedure assumes that all households are on the census address list.

A massive effort by the Department of City Planning, under the direction of Joseph Salvo, head of the population division and the city's census liaison, reviewed the census list of households and added about 370,000 household addresses to that list. Some were new construction, but many were auxiliary apartments or other sub-divisions of existing buildings. Many had not been visited in 1990, though they probably existed then. This is the first census where Congress allowed such a review. Indeed, in earlier censuses the bureau strongly resisted similar efforts and blocked them by court challenges for reasons of "confidentiality." If each newly found unit had two people in it (much lower than New York City's average) those extra 740,000 people would more than account for NYC's "growth."

No one will know how many housing units there are in New York City until the census releases figures later this year. However, City Planning Commissioner Joe Rose attributes half of New York City's growth to better counting. NYC probably grew at a more leisurely 4 or 5 percent, putting it in the same league with Chicago and behind Los Angeles.

Still, New York certainly did grow somewhat, thanks to immigration. This contrasts with many other cities in the region: Newark, Buffalo, Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven all lost population.

2. MOST REGIONAL GROWTH IS SUBURBAN SPRAWL

The fastest growth in the New York region is in the far suburbs, such as Putnam County in New York, central New Jersey, and some distant parts of Connecticut. Sprawl and "white flight" are alive and well. The most rapid growth in the New York region occurred in the outer ring of suburbs. While the Census counted 9.4 percent (and, again, many of these were just people who were not counted 10 years ago), Putnam County grew 13.1 percent, Orange County 10.2 percent; Dutchess, Greene, and Saratoga (now an Albany County suburb) all grew rapidly.

Unlike the New York City, none of these increases is based upon suddenly counting massive numbers of uncounted households. Indeed, 10 out of New Jersey's 21 counties grew at least 9.0 percent, and Somerset County grew over 23 percent. About one-third of Connecticut's roughly 175 towns grew faster than nine percent. Sherman, a town in Fairfield led the pack with 36 percent. Most such growth points in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey were quite a distance from New York City and far from local population centers such as Newark and New Haven.

3. TWO THIRDS OF THE NEW YORKERS WHO SAID THEY WERE MEMBERS OF MORE THAN ONE RACE MAY HAVE BEEN CONFUSED

Only a tiny number of New Yorkers made a valid report that they were two or more races. Almost all New Yorkers report that they are only one race. Many that reported more than one race probably did so in error. In New York City, about 393,000 people (slightly less than five percent) told the census that they were of more than race. But 71 percent of these listed that second race as "other race," which they were not supposed to do. Only about 115,000 people filled in two actual races, or about 1.4 percent of the population. This number reflects what the officials at the census had originally estimated.

These well known myths should make it plain that drawing conclusions from Census 2000 is not as easy as it seems. As Disraeli reportedly said: "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." Census 2000 certainly will continue to produce masses of statistics. The issue is how to sort the lies from the damn lies from the statistics.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.


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