What’s in a number? Disputing the 2010 Census

Ace Sun reporter Luke Broadwater detailed the story this week of how Baltimore’s illustrious mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is moving forward with disputing the results of the 2010 Census, which showed Baltimore’s population declining over a ten year period by roughly 30,000 people:

The dispute by SRB et al, in a nutshell, is that Baltimore hasn’t actually lost 30,000 residents/people/human units since “census workers missed counting 15,635 housing units β€” it means Baltimore’s population has held steady since 2000, not dropped significantly.”

15,635 housing units with on average one to two people in them right? See look — 30,000 people!

The reason for disputing these numbers at all, for those of you not in the know, is the same reason as everything else: money. Federal funding for various programs of entitlement and otherwise. $87 million worth. If the SRB administration can prove that the city of Baltimore rests at 650,000 people, we get more delicious money. That, and it gives the MASTER PLAN to “move 10,000 families into Baltimore City” a bit of an easier start, so who wouldn’t try to refute such a precipitous drop? But is there any chance that SRB and the funky bunch might be wrong about all 30,000 people being accounted for in spite of this challenge?

Well, let’s look at some very important numericals, shall we?

Here’s the population data from the City of Baltimore’s most recent publicly available financial report, from 2009 – page 136 (Which is outrageous in an of itself that this is the most recent report. More on that later.):

Squint your eyes hard enough and you’ll see that according to the City’s own data – by way of the Maryland Department of Planning – the city’s population has been declining in fits and starts since 2000 (well before that to boot), and no one was really disputing this leading up to the 2010 census. The Census Department data corroborates this, although with at times oddly varying values:

So whether you’re going into 2010 believing these numbers, we’re looking at a drop of about 12-15,000 people in the city of Baltimore over 10 years after the census is said and done. In other words, in a way I agree with the mayor that 30,000 people probably isn’t a realistic value, as it would mean a whopping 17,000 would have fled the city from 2009 and 2010. Seems pretty unlikely. But the fact that these population numbers — which no one really disputed up until SRB took office — have been declining steadily for the past ten years makes her assertion that exactly 30,000 residents have not been lost (the same exact amount as reported by the census in the opposite direction) and no where in between pretty arbitrary, almost as arbitrary as who to count and who to not count in the grand scheme of “counting citizens.” (Do you live here full time? Rent? Own? Pay taxes? Are you a US citizen?) Or “10,000 families.” Do dogs count as family members? Why not 9,564 families?

Inevitably the spin machine will kick in and in their effort to grab as many Federal dollars as possible, the administration will begin mentioning immigrant populations that didn’t participate in the census, poor people who don’t give a shit, disabled veterans, on and on and on until they hit their completely ludicrous 30,000 people mark. There’s no guarantee that the dispute will work at all, and realistically it shouldn’t. But since we’re now the midst of “growing Baltimore by 10,000 families” we’re going to see the same kind of stat padding we grew to know and love under O’Malley, except instead of drops in violent crime, it’s people living in the city. Welcome to the new Citistat.

But getting back to that magic 30,000 number – were I a betting man, I’d say the city lost at least 10 large over the course of 10 years, possibly more or less but not 30,000 people. And if the same logic applies with regard to houses not being counted in 2010, didn’t the same thing happen in 2000? Has the city just always been the same population and no one noticed? Is Rawlings-Blake’s administration more perceptive than the Department of Planning and the Census Bureau combined?


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