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Census challenge adds to count

Revision reverses estimated drop in population

WORCESTER — The city is one of 16 communities in the state to successfully challenge a U.S. Census Bureau estimate in which the city lost population last year.

Through its appeal, filed in conjunction with the Population Estimates Program established by the secretary of state’s office, the city picked up 1,555 residents, putting its new population estimate for 2007 at 175,521.

The U.S. Census Bureau originally estimated the city had lost 316 residents, thus putting its population at 173,966.

Other Central Massachusetts communities that won similar challenges were Fitchburg, Dudley and West Boylston, according to Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s liaison for the 2010 federal census.

Fitchburg picked up 408 in population from the challenge process, while West Boylston added 429 and Dudley picked up 275.

The successful challenges of the 16 communities yielded 21,295 residents who were not included in the original 2007 population estimate for Massachusetts, Mr. Galvin said.

After the Census Bureau came out with its population estimates for July 1, 2007, Mr. Galvin retained the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts to review the bureau’s estimates and to process challenges on behalf of the commonwealth and its cities and towns.

That led to the Population Estimates Program, a collaborative effort between his office and the Donahue Institute. Mr. Galvin said the successful municipal challenges represent the first returns on an investment made by the state last year to ensure that the official population estimate for Massachusetts is as accurate as possible.

“It is vital that every person in Massachusetts be counted for the 2010 census — vital for our fair share of federal funds and for our continued representation in Congress,” Mr. Galvin said in a statement released yesterday. “I applaud the work of the Population Estimates Program at the Donahue Institute for making these municipal challenges a success.”

In filing Worcester’s appeal with the Census Bureau in October, City Manager Michael V. O’Brien made a case for revising both the population estimate for July 1, 2007, and the methodology used in generating that estimate.

It was his contention that the population estimate failed to accommodate the level of detail available in city records such as existing “group quarters,” new college dormitory construction, housing demolitions, and housing units gained through the adaptive reuse of nonresidential structures.

City officials were caught by surprise in July when the Census Bureau estimated that Worcester’s population had declined, despite signs indicating its population was on the rise. City Clerk David J. Rushford was the first to question to federal estimate in the summer, saying locally generated data contradicted the Census Bureau’s findings.

In support of his argument, Mr. Rushford said Worcester had the highest number of single-family building permits issued in the state during the past two years. Also, while the annual number of births in Worcester has held steady at roughly 7,000, the clerk said, the percentage of those births to parents living in Worcester has increased. At the same time, the number of deaths among Worcester residents has held firm at about 3,300 annually.

Based on that information, Mr. Rushford believed all along that Worcester’s population should be closer to at least 175,000 people, rather than 173,966 estimated by the Census Bureau.

Mr. Galvin said the Population Estimates Program was funded at $600,000 last fiscal year, which was its first full year, with $100,000 for preliminary research in Suffolk County for fiscal 2007.

He said conservative estimates suggest that Massachusetts stands to gain $2.5 million to $5 million per year in federal funding as a direct result of the program’s successful efforts this year.

Susan Strate, PEP program manager for the Donahue Institute, said while it is difficult to say exactly how much each person added to the official population estimate is worth to the state, estimates have ranged from $123 per person per year in the 1990s to as much as $339 projected per person per year for metropolitan areas in this decade.

In addition to Worcester, Boston picked up 9,001 in population from the challenge process, while Springfield added 1,404, raising its new 2007 population estimate to 151,342.

Read article: Revision reverses estimated drop in population

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