WASHINGTON — With jobs and federal aid at stake, U.S. cities are lining up to contest their 2010 census counts as too low.
A decade ago, there were 1,200 challenges filed by cities, towns and counties. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is predicting a big jump in that number due in part to tighter budgets that make local officials more sensitive to potential drop-offs in federal money for Medicaid and other programs.
Nearly $450 billion in federal aid is distributed to states based on population each year, or roughly $1,500 per person.
Cities have two years to contest their counts under the Census Bureau's appeals process, which began this month. And doubts about the numbers are cropping up everywhere.
Real estate agents in New York City want to know where the Census Bureau found vast stretches of empty housing that resulted in a tally that was 200,000 fewer people than expected. Miami officials are puzzled over a count that fell 30,000 below the bureau's 2009 estimate, contending that immigrants and middle-class whites in gated condominiums were missed. Houston added two new City Council seats, even though the 2010 count showed it fell 549 short of the population required to do so. And California cities are mulling challenges after officials estimated an undercount 1.25 million people there.
As of this week, 18 U.S. cities, towns and villages had filed appeals, with many others saying they plan to do so, helped by new computer mapping and other technology that makes it easier to identify problems. Based partly on city complaints, the Census Bureau already has identified coding errors involving more than 26,000 people in California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington state — mostly Navy ships that were allocated to the wrong areas.
In recent decades, the peak for challenges was 6,600, or 17 percent of all U.S. jurisdictions, in 1990, when the census missed 4 million people, including 5 percent of all blacks and Hispanics.
The appeals process offers the first test of 2010 census results, which found a large-scale population shift to Sun Belt states that tend to lean Republican. In a surprise, African-Americans in search of jobs increasingly left big cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New York for the suburbs and the South, leading to the first black declines in Michigan and Illinois since statehood.
The challenges won't affect congressional apportionment and redistricting; revisions to the count don't affect the redrawing of political boundaries.