The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 29, 2009

’10 Census likely to cause area dustups


Three months from now, households across the nation should have received their packets in the mail from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier in this decennial count to make sure everybody is tracked down _ or is in the place where they’re supposed to be.

The forms for the 2010 Census are supposed to be short and simple, with only 10 questions. They ask how many people are living in each household, what their names are, and to identify heads of households, genders and races. Except for variations on those questions, that’s basically it.

It will be one of the shortest forms ever, and will not be asking anything about income or if you still use an outhouse.

It should be easy, except that the forms are supposed to be returned in April. If they are not, the bureau has to send fieldworkers out during the summer to get them.

Regardless, it seems like there are always surprises _ and also controversy _ every 10 years after yet another count.

And because so much federal and state grant money is contingent on population and demographics, communities are forced to care what the census has to say.

City of Oneonta leaders, for example, had a fit after the 2000 Census showed the city’s population had declined by 662 people since the 1990 count. People were obviously missed, they insisted, and the city filed a challenge.

Census officials apparently incorrectly recorded both the number and the distribution of city residents during the 2000 count, and then-Mayor Kim Muller blasted the bureau by saying there were such big errors that city officials lacked confidence in any of the numbers.

Unfortunately for the city, the Census Bureau stood by its total population figure of 13,292, though it adjusted the numbers for several wards and later did boost the total to 13,314.

Otsego County officials also weren’t happy, with planners saying that they thought not only the city, but even the town of Oneonta was undercounted. The county as a whole gained about 1,000 people during the 1990s.

While Delaware County leaders were pleased with a 1.8 percent gain in the 1990s, Census estimates since then have shown the county’s population to be declining. Chances are the 2010 count will show that trend to be official.

In general, many social and economic trends that began a decade or more ago are likely to be confirmed as growing once the new census figures for 2010 are released.

For example, the aging population, the decline in the number of married people, the rise in single-female households and a growth in minority residents will be shown to be escalating trends with no end in sight.

Updated census estimates since 2000 indicate where we are heading as a rural region that mirrors the larger national demographic changes taking place.

For example, the most recent American Community Survey estimate, for 2008, said 15.2 percent of Otsego County’s population was aged 65 or older. Back in 2000, the census count showed that percentage to be 15. Though slight, the increase is telling because of the number of retirees who have moved to warmer climates.

The 2000 Census said about 55 percent of people aged 15 or older were married, while 8.3 percent were divorced. In a dramatic change, the 2008 estimate put the percentage of people married at 48.6, while only 7.7 percent were divorced.

That indicates how more people are forgoing marriage in favor of cohabitation or separate households, and the new census should show that clearly.

Back in 2000, six percent of Otsego County’s households were single moms with children under 18. I expect that figure will rise, though 2008 estimates had it holding steady.

It’s disturbing that so many of those singlemother households are living in poverty: 36 percent in 2000. The 2008 estimate had that figure jumping to 47 percent.

What has been increasing, however, is the number of single females without children. That could be another reflection, perhaps, of the decline of marriage.

All those numbers make your eyes, and then your head, spin. Imagine what it will be like when the Census Bureau releases the new statistics sometime in 2011.

In case you’re worried about, or would prefer, not being found during the upcoming census mailing, presumably the bureau had people working this past summer to inventory and check on addresses in preparation for March. And the address checks also mean they’ll know where to locate you if you don’t mail in your form.

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Cary Brunswick, a former managing editor of The Daily Star, is editor of oneontatoday.com and can be reached at brunswick@earthling. net.