Back in 1979 when I first moved to New York City, the U.S., some of its states and municipalities were experiencing tough times. Many of you will remember 10% plus inflation and high gasoline prices. Those living in New York will remember the declining infrastructure, high cost of living, dirty subway cars which broke down easily and the sense that the city was not totally within our control. However, what many may not remember is the disarray that the U.S. Census Bureau was in and the financial appropriation problems that this would ultimately cause. Back then, getting an accurate count of the number of people living in the United States, much less New York State or New York City was virtually impossible. Remember those alleged census takers who fudged population counts rather than conducting interviews in certain rough and tumble neighborhoods?
Fast forward to today. While we have not totally eliminated all public works issues, both New York City and the U.S. Census Bureau are in much better shape than they were 32 years ago. The accuracy of today’s population counts are light years ahead of where they were. Back in April of last year the Census Bureau released some preliminary population estimates from the 2010 Census and compared them with their ten-year old (i.e., April 2000) projections for 2010. We decided to analyze state-by-state data by tiered groupings to determine just how accurate the Bureau’s estimates have become over the past three decades. What we found was pretty compelling.
The top 10 states ranked by population—California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina effectively made up Tier 1. This aggregate averaged a 2010 population count of about 16.676 million persons versus a decade-old forecast of approximately 16.682 million for a decline of just under 0.04% versus projection.
Tier 2 comprises states 11 through 20: New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland and Wisconsin. With an average population count of 6.673 million persons, the percent decline from the 2000 projection average (i.e., 6.681 million) was slightly larger at 0.12%.
States 21 through 30 make up Tier 3. These include: Minnesota, Colorado, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Iowa. This tier averaged a 2010 population count of 4.281 million persons as compared to the April 2000 estimate of 4.263 million, an increase of 0.44% versus projection.
Tier 4 states include: Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho and Hawaii. This aggregate averaged a 2010 population count of about 2.287 million persons versus a decade-old projection of approximately 2.268 million for an overall increase of 0.83%
Finally, the following district/states are included in Tier 5: Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, District of Columbia and Wyoming. With an average 2010 population count of 870.3 thousand, the percent increase from the 2000 projection average (i.e., 864.9 thousand) was approximately 0.62%.
Looking at the average differences above as well as the variations for each of the individual states, it’s clear that the U.S. Census has undergone significant improvements over the past 30 years. Accuracy is now the name of the game. The April 2010 total U.S. population count of 308,745,500 was only about 0.1% higher than what the Bureau actually predicted it would be in April of 2000. The importance of the improvements made cannot be overstated as many businesses and municipalities depend heavily on accurate projections and profiles of who their target markets are and where they live. So while back in 1980 we would have had our doubts about U.S. Census population counts, today we can say with a high degree of certainty that we are, in fact, close to 309 million strong!
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