WASHINGTON - It spent millions on advertising, hired temporary workers to knock on strangers' doors and weathered its share of political controversy. Now, the Census Bureau is poised to release figures that will remake the congressional map and document changing population.
The first results from the Census 2000 national headcount, to be released Thursday, are raw, state population totals. They are expected to confirm trends that estimates have hinted at since the last census a decade ago - booming populations in the South and West, slower growth in the North and Midwest.
That report will be followed by more detailed statistics in March, which will reveal America's new racial makeup. The 2000 questionnaires allowed people for the first time to check off if they were of more than one race, providing a rich portrait of racial identification.
These numbers will have complex political implications. The Supreme Court ruled last year that the raw, state data will be used to reapportion the 435 seats in the House among the 50 states.
The March report may include two sets of numbers: the raw figures, and a second set adjusted by way of a statistical method known as sampling. The same court decision left it to states to decide which numbers to use when they redraw congressional and state legislative lines beginning next year.
But first, the incoming Bush administration will have to decide whether to even release the adjusted numbers, which many believe will help Democrats. President-elect Bush hasn't said what he will do.
Dig past the political implications, though, and Census Director Kenneth Prewitt believes the results will yield a demographic portrait of America as complex and diverse as ever. More detailed statistics will be released incrementally over the next two years, ranging in topics from poverty and income to immigration and same-sex-couple households.
"We are convinced that when the data are out, it will underscore what we've been seeing, which is that Census 2000 has been operationally a successful census," Prewitt says.
Not without some glitches though.
Earlier in the year, some of the mailings sent to Americans to remind them of the count were misaddressed because of a printing error. And in March, just after most of the forms were mailed, some congressional Republicans questioned the intrusiveness of some questions on the 53-item long form: "How much money do you make?" or "Do you have plumbing at home?"
The public weighed in on editorial pages and radio talk shows, causing some problems for part-time census workers hired to go door-to-door to ask the questions.
But Prewitt said he remains optimistic about the overall prospects of success because more than 80 million, or about 67 percent of the 120 million forms sent out, were returned. That reversed a decades-long decline in participation. Also, it left just 40 million households to track down with door-to-door visits.
On the Net
Census Bureau: www.census.gov
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