WASHINGTON – The Census Bureau admits that it missed more than 100,000 Marylanders in the 1990 census, an error that state officials say has cost more than $100 million a year in lost federal funding.
The Maryland Office of Planning estimates that, based on the federal government’s own review of the 1990 census, the Census Bureau failed to count 2.11 percent of the state’s population of 4,781,468.
That undercount rate was 39th highest out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and resulted in Maryland losing millions in federal dollars that are based on population.
“The programs that are allocated funds based on the number of low- and moderate-incomes in the jurisdiction are hurt by the undercount,” said Scott Reilly, planning manager for Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
The state estimates that Montgomery County lost $9.9 million in federal aid because of the undercount. In areas of the state that are more reliant on federal assistance — and more likely to be undercounted — the impact was even greater.
Almost $65 million of the more than $100 million “lost” by the state would have gone to Baltimore City.
But small jurisdictions were affected as well. Allegany County lost about $863,622 because the census missed an estimated 946 people there while Somerset County’s undercount of 413 people cost it $536,582, according to the state estimates.
Tom Lauston, a planner for the Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission, said the urban areas experienced more of a problem with undercounting than the rural areas.
Still, it is a big enough problem that Somerset County is forming “a county committee to ensure that the undercount is improved” in the 2000 census, said Lauston.
Montgomery and Baltimore are also backing efforts to improve their showings in the next census, even though they will have to pay for it out of their own pockets.
“For the 2000 census, we are going to launch a very aggressive public information program and target hard-to- enumerate groups like the homeless,” said Gloria Griffin, the manager of the strategic planning division at the Baltimore City Office of Planning.
She said that in 1990, for example, only those people who were in Baltimore’s shelters at the time the census was taken were counted as homeless.
“All homeless do not live in shelters, so we are going to go to soup kitchens and other service providers, as well as shelters” to encourage them to participate next time, said Griffin.
Reilly said many poor residents “do not respond to the census because they have a fear of the information being led to other sources.”
“They are scared the Internal Revenue Service may get information on them,” he said.
Montgomery County is making the improvement of the census its business “so that everyone will know what it is really about,” Reilly said. He said the county will provide information on the census in foreign languages for the county’s immigrant population.
“The federal government does not give us any funds for these programs,” said Griffin, adding that the counties will use volunteers and pay for these programs with local funds.
The efforts may be worth the investment: Maryland receives about $900 per person per year in federal funds. The per capita distribution ranges from a high of $2,809 in Baltimore City to a low of $319.10 in Carroll County.
“The poor jurisdictions are the most adversely affected,” said Michel Lettre at the Maryland Office of Planning.
Prince George’s County had the state’s second-highest undercount rate, with an estimated 3.06 percent missed. Only Baltimore was higher, with an estimated 3.14 percent undercount.
“Typically, minorities are undercounted and there is a large minority population in Prince George’s County,” said Joe Valenza, an economist at the Prince George’s County Planning Commission.
Valenza said he believes that a suspicion of the government causes minorities and immigrants not to cooperate with the census bureau.
“People do not understand that, by law, information collected by the census cannot be provided to other agencies,” Reilly said.
Nationally, the census missed an estimated 8.4 million people in 1990. Rhode Island had the lowest undercount, at 0.13 percent, while Washington, D.C., had the highest, with an undercount of 3.53 percent.