Sorry, Mike! The city is just not as big as you think it is.
That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau, anyway, which, in very unsurprising news, has announced that it is not revising its official population count for 2010, despite the city’s official challenge of the final number.
Every ten years, the Census counts populations across the country, coming up with a new number that determines how different regions are funded and how populations are represented through new districts. The typical song and dance is that city government officials dispute the conclusion, arguing that their city is actually much bigger than the Census determined. This time around, the 2010 Census found the city’s population to be 8,175,133, but the city’s Department of Planning has argued that the population was closer to 8.4 million as of July 2010.
The city has said that the significant undercount is related to the Census’ finding of an increase in 82,000 vacant units in the city — which represents a 46% jump over the last ten years. Those increases are disproportionately concentrated in southern Brooklyn and northwest Queens, which the city argues are two vibrant areas that simply do not have the level of vacancies that the Census has found. (City officials say that those areas don’t have high rates of foreclosure or new construction, which could’ve explained the level of vacancy).
Through the official “Count Question Resolution” Program, the city challenged these results last year — but yesterday, the Dept. of Planning announced that the Census is sticking to its count. In its challenge, the city argued that there are clear anomalies in portions of Brooklyn and Queens — which have actually experienced high growth, according to the city. These errors, the city said, must have stemmed from shortcomings in the Census Bureau’s procedures.
In a letter sent to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a U.S. Census official says that it did find one error in the geographic placement of housing units, but adds that this change does not affect the total population count or housing unit counts for New York City. In other words, no meaningful revisions are coming out of the city’s challenge.
It’s important to note that in this official process, the Census only makes changes if it finds errors related to geographic boundaries and the processing of data already collected during the enumeration process. That means that officials aren’t doing any kind of recount — they are just searching for technical errors. It’s also worth noting that even if the Census found a significant error, it wouldn’t have affected congressional redistricting at this point. What it could’ve impacted is allocation of certain types of federal aid to the state, including low income housing tax credits. It also could’ve affected funding for services.
Last summer, in the city’s official challenge, the mayor wrote to the Census Bureau, saying, “I recognize that enumerating the population of New York City is a herculean and unenviable challenge, given the city’s large, diverse, and dense population, which lives primarily in difficult to count housing arrangements.” But, Bloomberg added in the letter, “This disproportionate concentration of vacancy suggests that some aspect of the census enumeration went awry in these two offices [which include Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Astoria, and Jackson Heights] with likely processing errors that may have hindered the proper reporting, compilation, and tabulation of census results.”
He wrote at the time, “It is our expectation that the City’s population could increase by tens of thousands of New Yorkers if the errors from those two Census offices alone were corrected.”
The Voice chatted with an expert this morning who said that this result was expected and that the city’s challenge was a standard political tactic from the start.
“The expectation was that nothing was going to come out of it,” said Phil Lewis, a sociologist at Queens College. “The mayor was optimistic that some of his influence might rub off…but I think it was more of a hopeful endeavor.”
Lewis noted that in some cases there can be simultaneous migrations in and out of the city in specific neighborhoods which could possibly explain the surprising population rates in some neighborhoods. He also said that it’s important for the mayor to make this challenge, because it acknowledges certain immigrant groups and demographics that may typically feel ignored or overlooked.
“This has a lot to do with general good will,” he said. “It has a lot do with funding, but it also has to do with respect for certain groups that may feel like they have not been given attention…He doesn’t want any particular groups to feel underrepresented.”