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Report: Boston Has Highest Census Error Rate

This article is more than 11 years old.

During the 2010 census, 14.3 percent of Boston's reported population was counted erroneously, the highest error rate in the country, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Coverage Measurement Estimation Report estimates Suffolk County overall had a 13.1 percent erroneous rate. A few other counties or cities around the U.S. had erroneous counting rates around 7 or 8 percent, but most of the nation fared much better in terms of accuracy.

The figures were calculated with information obtained during follow-up interviews conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in select population clusters during the three months after the census wrapped up.

Once the various types of errors were factored together, census researchers found Boston's population had been over-counted by an estimated 1.27 percent.

Errors were mainly a result of counting people more than once or reporting people that were not actually residents of the city, according to the report.

Patrick Cantwell, an assistant division chief for the U.S. Census Bureau, says that because the results "balance out very close to zero" for Boston, they're not statistically significant.

"We will continue to try to improve the census so we have fewer erroneous [counts] everywhere, so we don't have them large like this," Cantwell said.

Avi Green, co-director of the advocacy group Mass Vote, worries about the accuracy of demographic data for Boston because of the relatively high rate of incorrect population reporting.

"We need the statistics from the census to understand the fine grain details when we make planning decisions where to build things, what kind of social services are needed, where do you have to put schools," Green said. "So it's critical to find out what went wrong."

Green says he hopes to see an investigation of why Boston's census data was apparently so off.

"What, if anything, did they do differently here from anywhere else in the country?" Green said. "There's no particular reason why something should have made Boston harder to count."

Cantwell, of the Census Bureau, says he doesn't know if the bureau will make changes to how it collects data in Boston in 2020 and he can't account for why the erroneous rate was higher than the rest of the country.

This program aired on May 24, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.



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