Friday, August 16th, 2013
My latest blog post is online over at New Geography. It’s called “Is the Census Bureau On Track For Another Estimating Fiasco?” and looks at the eyebrow-raising sub-county estimates released in June in the context of the strange methodology used last year and the huge miss during the 2000s. I’m not sure whether the estimates are right or not, but there’s enough disagreement between them and the actual Census results, plus various surveys like the ACS, to call all the numbers into question. Attempts to create a rigorous methodology for anything are confused by the manifest weakness of the Census Bureau in the face of political pressure. I’m not aware of any estimates challenge in the previous decade that was actually denied, for example, and the biggest misses were disproportionately in those cities that challenged estimates. This augurs poorly for theoretically superior statistical adjustment techniques given the track record of successful political manipulation demonstrated here. In any case, here’s an excerpt:
Or look at Indianapolis. In its urban core area, Center Township (township data is reported in a similar manner to municipal estimates in some areas), the population declined by almost 25,000 people during the 2000s, a steep 14.5% loss that was worse than Buffalo and St. Louis and nearly as bad as Cleveland. Center Township has lost population every decade since 1950. Yet the Census Bureau has estimated that it gained 2,300 people since the census. Though a lower total percentage due to the base, this is more physical people than was estimated to be added by all but three of Indy’s suburbs, many of which posted huge gains in the 2000s (such as Westfield, which added 20,800 during the 2000s but was only estimated to have added 1,800 since the census despite building permit issuances at all time record highs). This sort of radical turnaround in fortunes would certainly be nearly miraculous if true.
You can go right down the line and find similar effects at work in other places. It raises serious questions about these estimates. Places like San Francisco, DC, and even Pittsburgh have had economic growth that might seem to underpin more robust core population growth, it’s hard to credit many of these other places with such turnaround. Some of the analysts focused on an inability of people to move outwards because of the economy, but it’s hard to believe this alone grew the population of Atlanta by 24,000 people.